October 20, 2019

ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt Talks Tachlis on Anti-Semitism

Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe (left) and Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. Photo by Ryan Torok.

While there has been a decrease in anti-Semitic sentiment in the United States, anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise.

So said Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a discussion with Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe on Sept. 11.

Speaking to a crowd of approximately 100 people, Greenblatt said, “Sentiments are actually pretty good in this country and better than they’ve ever been since we’ve been in business, but … acts of harassment and acts of violence increased [in 2018]; acts of assault and whatnot increased 105%, punctuated by the murder in Pittsburgh [at the Tree of Life synagogue] where 11 people were literally shot in cold blood in the pews where they worshipped on a Saturday morning.”

Greenblatt, who has helmed the ADL since 2015, also said he believes anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and that it is possible to criticize Israel and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement without being anti-Semitic.

He also dismissed the perception among political conservatives that the ADL is exclusively focused on condemning anti-Semitism on the right — particularly statements from President Donald Trump — while ignoring anti-Semitism on the left from the likes of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Much of that criticism comes, Greenblatt believes, because of his previous position as a special assistant to President Barack Obama.

Greenblatt also spoke about anti-Semitic forces in Europe, stating that Central European nations, including Hungary, Poland and Austria, and Scandinavian countries, including Norway and Sweden, are experiencing a rise in right-wing extremist political parties. He said these countries are taking their cues from an earlier, more anti-Semitic time in Europe, whereas Western European countries, such as Spain and the United Kingdom, “have radical left-wing movements afoot.” 

He added that Jews in Europe face a “triple threat” from the “radical left, the extreme right and Islamic jihadism, all of which are threatening to their Jewish communities.”

Asked by Wolpe how much of the anti-Semitism in Europe is attributed to Islam, Greenblatt spoke of the radicalization of impressionable Muslim youth in France and Germany. He said this was due to imams getting their talking points from leaders in Iran and Turkey who are committed to “fomenting extraordinary anti-Semitism. ”

Greenblatt also took to task Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying Erdogan was responsible for purchasing property in East Jerusalem to, among other things, spreading Turkish influence in the region. 

“That’s not very encouraging,” Wolpe said. 

“Nope,” Greenblatt replied. “It’s not.”

During the question-and-answer period, Chloe Levian, a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow at Santa Monica City College, asked Greenblatt if there were ways she could fight anti-Israel attitudes on her campus.

Greenblatt said one way the ADL has been helping is by partnering with campus Hillel groups and working with Jewish members of universities’ board of trustees. 

The evening concluded with a tribute to those who died in the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Taking their cues from Wolpe and Greenblatt, audience members stood and bowed their heads in silence.