The ADL director and the war against hate in Trump’s America


When Jonathan Greenblatt took the top job at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in July 2015, Donald Trump was an outside candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and a favorite punch line of TV pundits.

Today, Trump is weeks away from the world’s most powerful office, and the ADL’s frequent criticism of the reality-TV-star-turned-leader-of-the-free-world has become arguably the defining aspect of Greenblatt’s freshman year.

Even in a more normal year, Greenblatt, a nontraditional choice for the job, would have had his hands full stepping in for Abraham Foxman, his predecessor as ADL national director.

“I’m learning as I go,” Greenblatt told the Journal in a phone interview last month. “I don’t have the long history that my predecessor had. He worked in this organization for 50 years. Many of my peers, if you look at counterpart organizations, have also worked there for decades. Not me.”

Greenblatt’s early days at the helm of the 103-year-old civil rights watchdog have not been easy ones. The unexpected twists of the recent election season turned the young leader’s first year into a test not only for him, but also for the ADL and the Jewish establishment more broadly.


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The ADL’s selection of Greenblatt in late 2014 was seen as a broadening of its reach, enabling it to connect with young people who grew up in a world where anti-Semitism seemed a less pressing problem than other forms of ethnic and racial hatred. Unlike Foxman, Greenblatt wasn’t a longtime operator in the Jewish world.

The 46-year-old was born and raised in New England and earned his master’s in business administration at Northwestern University before moving to Los Angeles. There, in 2001, he married Marjan Keypour, then associate director of the ADL for the Pacific Southwest Region. The next year, he co-founded Ethos Water, a bottled water line that donates part of its profits to clean water programs in the developing world. Ethos pioneered a model later followed by brands such as Toms Shoes and Warby Parker, linking consumption to a cause. In 2005, Starbucks purchased Ethos for $8 million.

Greenblatt and Keypour put began to put down roots in Los Angeles, preparing to raise their children there.

“I felt pretty blessed to be there, my kids were happy,” he said.

Then, in 2011, President Barack Obama selected him to be the director the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and he took the opportunity.

“The president basically said to me, ‘I’ve got this office, it’s too much like a think tank. I want somebody who’s run businesses to run it,’ ” he recalled.

Greenblatt’s background made him an unusual choice for ADL director; his ties to the White House have been used to paint him as a partisan actor, a charge he dismisses. Though he attends a Conservative synagogue and keeps a kosher home on Long Island, and served on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, he didn’t have the long resume in the Jewish establishment many expected of a potential ADL chief.

In any case, he certainly wasn’t another Foxman, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor long seen as a top authority on Jew hatred in media and politics.

“They were looking for a guy who would energize young Jews broadly against hatred and for many of the causes that [Greenblatt] endorsed earlier,” said Jonathan Sarna, a history professor at Brandeis University who studies the American Jewish community. “And then, irony of ironies, anti-Semitism seems to be roaring back and his role has shifted.”

The truism that Donald Trump’s election changed everything about American politics is more apt for Greenblatt than most people.

If he had hoped for a honeymoon period of waiting and watching in his new role, those hopes were dashed when Trump descended the gilded escalator in Trump Tower and kicked off his run for the presidency by pronouncing that rapists and criminals were pouring over the border with Mexico.

“It is time for Trump to stop spreading misinformation and hatred against immigrants, legal and undocumented,” Foxman said in a statement shortly after Trump’s presidential announcement, and just weeks before handing the reins over to Greenblatt.

Foxman’s statement set the tone for the coming election. But as Trump moved from an outside candidate to Republican nominee, Greenblatt doubled down.

Soon, under Greenblatt’s leadership, the ADL became the loudest of the nonpartisan Jewish organizations criticizing Trump. When Jewish journalists faced harassment by Twitter trolls using Nazi imagery, the ADL was among the only Jewish organizations to point out that these trolls seemed energized by and aligned with Trump. Within a week of the election, it slammed the Trump campaign for a television ad it said evoked anti-Semitic imagery.

Greenblatt’s outspokenness put him in something of an awkward position in a community where, after all, almost a third of Jews who voted cast a ballot for Trump. After Trump clinched an Electoral College victory on Nov. 8, Greenblatt’s position became even more prickly.

Although that day was a sobering one for many in the Jewish community, it can be seen as a turning point for Greenblatt and the ADL.

“They’re certainly not going to be at the very top of the list of people to be invited to the White House,” said Alvin H. Rosenfeld, a professor of Jewish studies at Indiana University and a widely recognized expert on historical anti-Semitism. “On the other hand, politics tends to work pragmatically after a certain point.”

It remains to be seen whether the ADL’s relationship with the Trump White House is permanently soured. But in any case, it now must balance criticism of the next president with its commitment to working with government agencies at all levels (nationally, it trains more police officers in reacting to hate crimes than any other organization).

Greenblatt has made it clear that he won’t refrain from criticizing Trump now that he’s won the election. Less than a week after Election Day, he released a statement opposing the appointment of Steve Bannon, formerly the CEO of Breitbart News, as White House chief strategist and senior adviser, citing Breitbart as “the premier website of the alt-right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.”

The blowback was immediate. Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who’d clashed publicly with Greenblatt in August, released a statement urging the ADL to “withdraw and apologize for their inappropriate character assassination of Mr. Bannon.”

Some professional observers of the organized Jewish community wondered if Greenblatt had jumped the gun. Sarna said he was surprised the ADL chose to criticize Bannon without first seeking a meeting with him. Still, he saw it is an understandable choice.

“You’re afraid that you’re going to lose your brand unless you speak out at a certain moment,” Sarna said. “But the risk is there’s a penalty for speaking out too early and without all the information.”

Rosenfeld was less ambivalent: “To denounce [Trump] and his people right from the get-go is not in the interest of the American Jewish community,” he said. “Following Abe Foxman is bound to be difficult, but [Greenblatt] needs to take his time and think carefully about what he’s saying.”

Rosenfeld said he looks to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), as a model of how to combat anti-Semitism without overextending political capital.

Harris, in an interview with the Jewish Broadcasting Service shortly after the election, urged patience in the wake of Trump’s upset victory, saying “Let’s take a deep breath.”

As for Bannon’s appointment, Harris said, “There may be many issues to worry about or to wonder about. This is not near the top of my list.”

By Greenblatt’s telling, his decision to come out against Bannon was a natural one.

“I don’t make my decisions based on ‘Hmm, let’s make a tradeoff here. What works and doesn’t work?’ ” he said. “I focus on not what feels good but rather, when we see hate, how do we deal with it? And we know under Steve Bannon’s leadership, it was his stated attempt and then his successful goal to position Breitbart as the platform for the alt-right.”

Nonetheless, he said, the ADL is already in touch with Trump’s transition team to see how they can work together.

“We’re engaging with them,” he said.

He declined to provide specifics or elaborate further. But he maintained the ADL can work with the administration while acting as a watchdog when its rhetoric veers into intolerance or bigotry.

He pointed to immigration, for instance, as a place where the ADL could prove a nuanced and responsible partner for Trump.

“There’s good reason to be very careful and to use very rigorous screening to make sure that, in particular, refugees fleeing the catastrophe that is Syria, the Syrian civil war, [are] very carefully vetted,” he said. “We are not naïve about that. It’s really important, extremely important. It’s urgent. But at the same time, we think there are opportunities to be as humane as we always have been, as the Statue of Liberty required of us as Americans.”

The question remains whether the seemingly thin-skinned Trump will consent to work with his loudest critic within the Jewish mainstream establishment.

“There is a price to be paid for too many attacks on the president of the United States,” said Steven M. Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

“There hasn’t been a time in American history where liberal values were seemingly as challenged as they are right now in 20th-century history,” he went on. “It’s not that the ADL’s actions are unprecedented. It’s that the context is unprecedented.”

Sarna agreed that the ADL’s actions during the election constitute a historical watershed that future generations of Jewish leaders will look back on for insight. He framed the choice facing Greenblatt during the election as “silence, outrage, instruction or obstruction.”

“Those are always your choices,” he said. “The ADL elected to go with outrage. Some other organizations, I think, decided that maybe silence was the right way to go. … The problem with outrage is that you can’t be outraged all the time. You only have a certain capital of outrage.

“It’s hard being a Jewish leader,” he added. “I don’t envy Mr. Greenblatt.”

Greenblatt said he never saw much of a choice in the way he approached the situation, but he doesn’t blame other Jewish organizations, like the AJC, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and The Jewish Federations of North America for taking a less confrontational approach: “I just don’t think that way,” he said.

“I said what I said and we did what we did because it was consistent with ADL’s historic role,” he told the Journal. “As I said, for us it was a matter of our mission. Others need to do what they need to do. I don’t begrudge them.”

But there are Jewish leaders and organizations that have felt the need to question Greenblatt’s leadership.

“It seems to me at critical times [in the] course of this campaign, a pattern emerged that the ADL put their thumb on the scale in a way that hadn’t been done by Greenblatt’s predecessor,” Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), told reporters on a conference call the day after the election.

By attacking Trump, Brooks said, “The ADL has put itself in a potentially compromising position going forward.”

Greenblatt rejects the criticism that the ADL singled out Trump.

“We did not call out the Trump campaign per se,” he said. “What we did was call out particular ideas when we found them to be problematic.”

He pointed out that the ADL criticized Republican candidates Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders when they made comments that were untoward or inflammatory. When Trump was criticized for making comments to the RJC in December 2015 that some perceived as anti-Semitic (“I’m a negotiator like you folks,” the candidate said), Greenblatt came to his defense: “We do not believe that it was Donald Trump’s intention to evoke anti-Semitic stereotypes,” Greenblatt said in a statement at the time.

In the weeks since the election, Greenblatt proved once again that he’s willing to go after Democrats and to change his position when new information arises.

Early in Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison’s bid to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, Greenblatt released a statement where he raised concerns about his record on Israel, but also described him as “a man of good character” and “an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism.” Yet after a recording came to light of Ellison questioning the United States’ relationship with Israel, Greenblatt changed course in a Dec. 1 statement, calling the remarks “both deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”

To the idea that he singled out Trump for censure, Greenblatt told the Journal, “It doesn’t map to the facts.” Instead, he said, the ADL spoke up each time somebody in the national spotlight ran afoul of its core values of equality, pluralism and tolerance.

“We speak out, not because someone is of a particular political persuasion, but because when ideas are in violation of those core American values, that’s when we think — that’s when the ADL has a role to play,” he said.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which combats hate and anti-Semitism, found himself in a similar position to Greenblatt during the election, and he echoed the need to pick moments and battles carefully.

“This is not going to be an easy road to go down,” Cooper said. “We have to engage with the people with the keys to the car.”

Greenblatt said his organization wants to collaborate positively with the new administration whenever possible, without yielding any ground on ADL’s commitment to its core mission.

“We’re going to hold them relentlessly accountable to the issues we care about,” he said, “and do what we can to make sure we continue to be a fierce advocate.”

Stephen Bannon backed in statement from Republican Jewish Coalition board member


A Republican Jewish Coalition board member has issued a statement supporting Stephen Bannon, who was appointed chief strategist for President-elect Donald Trump.

Tuesday’s statement from Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot, comes in response to condemnations of Bannon aired since his appointment Sunday, in part from several Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League.

Marcus calls the attacks on Bannon, which criticize him for having ties to white supremacists and anti-Semites, “nothing more than an attempt to undermine the incoming Trump administration,” according to Time magazine.

“I have been shocked and saddened to see the recent personal attacks on Steve,” reads the statement, as tweeted by Time reporter Zeke Miller. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The person that is being demonized in the media is not the person I know.”

Bannon was formerly the chairman of Breitbart News, a site that Bannon called “the platform for the alt-right,” a loose movement of the far right whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”

Marcus says in the statement that Bannon is stridently pro-Israel.

“I have known Steve to be a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel who felt so strongly about this that he opened a Breitbart office in Israel to ensure that the true pro-Israel story would get out,” the statement reads. “What is being done to Steve Bannon is a shonda,” a Yiddishism for a shame or a scandal.

RJC kicks off GOTV push in swing states


Encouraged by recent polls that show the presidential race tightening in key battleground states and Senate Republican incumbents  “>conducted by Jim Gerstein from GBA Strategies showed Clinton is supported by 66 percent of Jewish voters in the state of Florida, while Trump is supported by 23 percent.

An RCP average of polls shows Trump trailing Clinton in Ohio by 2.5 percent and in Pennsylvania by 5.8 percent. Senators Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, and Rob Portman are all favorites to win their reelection bids.

What turns many Jews away from Trump energizes his Jewish supporters


In August 2015, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) asked 1,030 American Jews to name their favored candidate in the following year’s presidential primaries. Hillary Clinton was the clear winner with 39.7 percent, followed by Bernie Sanders with 17.8 percent. Donald Trump came in third with 10.2 percent, more than any of the other nine Republicans named.

A majority of Jews will almost certainly line up behind the Democrat in the November election: The same AJC poll found 48.6 percent of American Jews identify as Democrats, compared with 19 percent who say they are Republicans.

But some of the same factors that have turned many voters off Trump — his unyielding stance on immigration and fondness for insult, for instance — are some of what’s driving another group of Jewish voters, even some in liberal Los Angeles, to support his candidacy.

“I like the idea that somebody fresh and new and a little bit vulgar is getting ahead,” said Culver City resident Leslie Fuhrer Friedman, who attends the Pacific Jewish Center on Venice Beach.

“Does he say uncouth things?” she said. “Of course. You know, he’s kind of like an Israeli in the Knesset. He’s a little rude.”

For all the offense many Jews have taken to the Republican’s musings, others have found a set of reasons, specifically Jewish ones, to support him — from his close relationship with his Orthodox son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to his disdain for an administration many feel has disrespected Israel.

And then there are some Republican Jews who see Trump’s candidacy as merely the lesser of two evils. 

Brian Goldenfeld, a Woodland Hills paralegal who contributes to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said he’s disappointed with both candidates but doesn’t view Clinton as an acceptable option.

“I don’t think just because you’re conservative you have to support Trump,” he said. “But what other alternative do we have?”

For its part, the RJC has offered Trump its lukewarm support: When it became clear he would be the party’s nominee, the RJC released a statement congratulating him, but it has yet to endorse him. 

Yet there’s a sense, at least among the Jewish Trump supporters interviewed for this article, that his shoot-from-the-hip style allows him to speak political truths others avoid, especially on issues of foreign policy.

Clinton “has never admitted there is such a thing as Islamic terrorism,” said Phillip Springer, a World War II veteran who lives in Pacific Palisades.

Springer said he supports Trump because he sees him as the candidate most suited to protect the United States from terrorist attacks of the type that are increasingly common in Europe.

“He does not want New York to turn into Paris and Washington to turn into Brussels,” Springer said. “That will happen if the gates are opened to anybody that’s trying to get into this country.”

Among some of L.A.’s Iranian Jews,

Gone missing: Actual Democrats in Republican Jewish Coalition ad bashing Democrats


A couple of weeks ago, the Associated Press encountered a “handful” of out-and-proud white supremacists credentialed for the Republican convention.

The reporter asked Sean Spicer, the spokesman for the Republican National Committee, to explain. Here’s what he said, per the AP:

Convention organizers release credentials in large blocks to state delegations, special guests and media outlets. Officials have little control over where they end up, he said, noting that even protesters from the liberal group Code Pink managed to get into the convention hall.

“People get tickets through various means, including the media,” Spicer said. “In no way, shape or form would we ever sanction any group or individual that espoused those views.”

Right. Conventions are diffuse, borderline chaotic affairs. Saying the views and actions of a handful of folks are emblematic of the entire party would be fundamentally unfair, you’d think.

You’d think, but not so much the Republican Jewish Coalition, which in an online ad it released last week arguing that the Democratic Party has been taken over by anti-Israel forces advances a definition of Democrat so loose as to be meaningless.

Included in the ad as emblematic of “today’s Democratic Party,” as the narrator puts it, are a group of masked folks burning a flag outside the convention.

“While the Palestinian flag was displayed inside the Democratic convention, the Israeli flag was burned right outside,” the narrator says.

Unlike the white supremacists in Cleveland, the flag burners are not credentialed – they are outside the convention, protesting what’s going on inside. It’s like blaming Hubert Humphrey for Abbie Hoffman. Notably, nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign condemned the flag burning. (The Palestinian flag inside the arena was unveiled for a brief moment and appeared to be the work of a handful of people.)

The man and the woman who speak in the ad condemning U.S. support for Israel are not credentialed, and appear outdoors – not inside the arena.

“Anti-Israel Democrats are all around Philadelphia,” the narrator says, without explaining how we know that the speakers are Democrats (there were plenty of Greens in Philadelphia).

The ad also implies that the very presence in the city of anti-Israel protesters indicts the entire party. In addition to the white supremacists in Cleveland, there were – as Spicer noted – Code Pink protesters inside and outside the arena. Does that render the Republican Party an amalgam of the Ku Klux Klan and the Yippies?

The RJC ad is on more solid ground in quoting Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who, addressing pro-Palestinian groups, likened settlement activity to the destruction wrought by termites.

Johnson issued a non-apology, and his defenders have said he was referring to the “settlement enterprise” and not settlers, although that is not clear from his remarks: “There has been a steady, almost like termites can get into a residence and eat it up before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself, there has been settlement activity that has marched forward with impunity.”

In any case, the distinction between likening humans to insects and likening human activity to insect activity does not exactly lessen the offense.

Johnson, however, spoke off-campus, at an event sponsored b the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the American Friends Service Committee, not the DNC. Every mention of Israel from the convention stage was positive, including the one in Clinton’s acceptance speech. (You wouldn’t know this from Clinton’s only appearance in the ad, at its end, with a shot of her smirking.)

Still, trends we observed reporting the conventions suggested differences between the parties.

There were plenty of “I support Palestinian human rights” stickers and banners at the Democratic convention. Mentions of Israel at both convention stages were positive, but at the GOP convention, they were more frequent and more robust. Both parties had pro-Israel platforms, but the Republican language was approved unanimously, while there was a debate among Democrats over whether to refer critically to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. (The proposal was rejected.)

An ad mentioning those actual facts, and others, would have made a strong case that the Republican Party unambiguously supports Israel’s current government, while Democrats have a more contentious relationship with it. The RJC ad, relying on hyperbole and distortions, doesn’t make that case.

Uneasy Republicans and confident Democrats diverge on ‘Jewish’ issues


It’s never been easy for Jewish Republicans. Jews have broken overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates since Woodrow Wilson. Despite rising American Jewish affluence, usually a harbinger of conservative voting patterns, a plurality self-defines as liberal.

Republican Jews have poured millions into upping their share of the Jewish vote in recent elections, portraying the GOP as the pro-Israel party and telling largely affluent Jewish Americans to vote their economic self-interest. The needle has only moved a little, despite those efforts: 80 percent of Jews voted Clinton in 1992, 79 percent voted Gore in 2000 and 74 percent voted Obama in 2008.

Organizations like the Republican Jewish Coalition have kept pushing despite it all. Most Jews don’t vote primarily based on Israel, but as Democrats passed a controversial Iran deal and condemned Israel’s West Bank occupation, Republicans saw a window of opportunity.

Republicans doubled down on the Israel case at their national convention in Cleveland last month. Donald Trump, Mike Pence and a handful of other speakers included lines in support of Israel in their speeches and drew loud applause. President Barack Obama’s support of Iran’s nuclear program, anathema to the Israeli government, was a nightly punching bag.

Dozens of delegates told JTA that the main reason Jews should vote Trump is that he’s better on Israel than his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The Republican platform swung right on Israel, eliminating the long-held bipartisan consensus supporting the two-state solution, and rejecting the United States’ right to dictate terms on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Even so, Republican Jewish uneasiness showed at the convention. Big-name Jewish donors declined to attend. Republican Jews, from journalists Bill Kristol and Jennifer Rubin to former Republican operatives like Noam Neusner and David Frum, oppose Trump. The Republican Jewish Coalition held no events that were open to the media, a departure from previous conventions.

Much of this ambivalence has to do with Trump’s string of statements insulting minorities — Jews among them. It’s a point Democrats stressed every day of their confab a week later in Philadelphia. A video aired on the first night of the their convention featuring Trump’s retweet of an image widely called anti-Semitic. The convention’s explicit message was that anyone who cares about safeguarding minority rights has to vote Clinton.

The first night of the Democratic National Convention featured a string of Jewish public figures — Sarah Silverman and Sen. Al Franken among them — and it ended with a keynote speech by Bernie Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win a major party primary. Jewish entertainers, activists and politicians peppered every night’s roster, from singer Paul Simon to Senator Barbara Boxer.

Criticism of Israel was a recurring feature in Philadelphia, a point the RJC pressed in an ad released last week calling the party “stridently anti-Israel.” Many Sanders supporters wore pro-Palestinian stickers, and a few advocated changing the United States’ historically pro-Israel policy. On Wednesday, a night devoted largely to national security, no one mentioned the U.S. alliance with Israel. There was full-throated support for the Iran deal throughout the convention. At one point, protesters outside the convention burned an Israeli flag. At a roundtable discussion held outside the convention by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the American Friends Service Committee, Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson compared Israel’s West Bank settlement movement to termites.

But in the end, the party could point to the ways it shored up its traditional pro-Israel wing. The Democratic platform committee rejected an effort to even mention settlements and occupation in its section on Israel. Like Trump, Clinton threw a shout-out to Israel’s security into her acceptance speech, and didn’t mention Palestinians. Gen. John Allen, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, gave a convention speech in support of Clinton  that echoed neoconservative rhetoric, which tends to be forcefully pro-Israel. Even Bill Clinton got into the act, sporting a Hebrew “Hillary” button during Obama’s Wednesday night speech.

It could be that, in future election cycles, discord over Israel will drive more Jews to the Republican party. Part of Sanders’ dissent from Democratic orthodoxy was in his call for more criticism of Israel. In her acceptance speech, Clinton adopted much of his domestic rhetoric but none of his Middle East policies. But if Sanders delegates become the new Democratic mainstream, the party could gravitate away from its pro-Israel stance.

At Jewish Democratic events, though, the old guard held sway. If anything, the Democratic Jews’ biggest problem came from one of their own, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was ousted as chair of the Democratic National Committee at the convention’s start. Wasserman Schultz was the favorite daughter of Jewish Dems, a former National Jewish Democratic Council staffer who rose to be a congresswoman and party bigwig. Now, she’s facing a primary challenge and could exit political life.

Even as she was embattled, the NJDC stood with her, presenting her with an award on the convention’s final afternoon. Wasserman Schultz sounded defiant at the event, calling Trump a traitor and promising to win her primary. And despite her fall from grace, Jewish Democrats cheered her, as if to say that whatever the future held, they felt good about this year.

RJC pounces on Dem platform fight over Israel


The Republican Jewish Coalition on Tuesday launched an online campaign that highlights anti-Israel voices in the Democratic Party – Cornel West, Congressman Keith Ellison, and James Zogby, the three members of the party’s platform drafting committee.

“Radical Democrat. Stridently anti-Israel. Hand selected to be a Member of the twenty sixteen Democrat Platform Committee,” the narrator says in three separate ads, each highlighting statements by the three members appointed by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Sadly this isn’t the old Democratic Party. It’s today’s Democratic Party.”

The ads, according to the RJC, will run