As a young law student back in in 1987, I read an article about “human rights violations” being perpetrated by Israel in the National Law Review. Never a shrinking violet, I dashed off a letter to the editor in protest. A couple of days after it was printed, two letters arrived in my law school mailbox, both of them antisemitic and threatening. I was a bit spooked, so I called the Chicago office of the Anti-Defamation League.
A fellow named Michael Lieberman invited me to come in, and when I showed him the letters, he recognized one of the authors, a known crank with many disturbing qualities by the name of Anthony Martin-Trigona. The man is a serial litigant who has by now filed over 250 political lawsuits, but he was also essentially harmless, Michael explained. ADL would “file” my letters. Case closed.
Back then, the ADL adhered to the values America was founded upon. It existed to protect Jews from attacks and did so within the confines of free speech values, albeit with a liberal slant. I know because after my encounter with ADL in 1987, I volunteered as an ADL legal intern. It was fun, and I did believe I was doing good. Everyone believed that. And it was true.
The ADL taught me that nastygrams from Jew haters were just the price we pay for liberty, worthy of being filed and forgotten. This is not Weimar Germany; it is America. We have a First Amendment, we have civil rights, we have a working democracy. That is part of the good we have done.
But the ADL no longer believes this. It has become part of a great online censorship machine that is being exposed day after day as an anti-free speech enterprise.
The national ADL, like the ACLU, the NAACP, and other formerly “apolitical” civil rights groups, is now merely a tax-exempt cadre of the national Democratic Party. Anyone paying any kind of attention knows this. And as the Democratic Party has moved further into the fringes of Left-wing lunacy, the ADL has moved with it—whether a Jewish “antidefamation” issue is at stake or not. The party requires it.
So it should come as no surprise that “X” (Twitter) CEO Elon Musk is now claiming the ADL has engaged in relentless efforts to delegitimize X, falsely smearing the platform and its owner for providing an antisemitic haven for “hate speech.” Per Musk, the ADL has gone so far as to lean on advertisers not to do business there. No shrinking violet himself, Musk has gone as far as threatening to sue the ADL for defamation. Naturally, Musk’s objections to being defamed “just prove” that Musk “really is” an antisemite.
I, too, am (still) not much of a shrinking violet, and like Musk have not hesitated to express my view that the ADL has lost its way. As an Orthodox Jew, I want people—especially American conservatives—to know that the ADL does not speak for all Jews. And I want to draw attention to the fact that the ADL is largely silent when national figures and institutions aim nasty rhetoric and resentment at the most visible Jews, or what we call in my house “the Jewiest Jews.”
The ADL has let our community down so many times that its silence is not even a letdown anymore. All but the most institutionally constrained Orthodox Jews openly reciprocate the contempt the ADL seems to harbor for traditional Judaism, its values, and its people. The widespread belief in my community is that ADL does not object to public expressions of hatred and fear of Orthodox Jews because the assimilated Jews that run the place share those sentiments themselves.
My own disdain for the formerly righteous ADL reached a peak a few years ago, when I learned just how far its commitment to leftist dogma went. I encountered it as part of my work as a lawyer who does both defamation and free speech litigation. Trying to get my arms around the ways smear groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center go about deplatforming disfavored personalities, I kept bumping into the same rogue’s gallery, and ADL was, far more often than not, part of the pro-censorship coalition.
Today’s ADL operates hand in hand with other formerly august institutions such as the SPLC and CAIR, dedicated to the proposition that all speech is not created equal. Having failed to persuade, the Left is now committed to censorship. And as state and federal governments get in on the act, the ACLU and other self-described champions of civil liberties are silent, or even cheer them on.
This betrayal is especially disappointing in a Jewish organization. Fearless dissent was once held up as a Jewish value. Now, it’s deemed a sin worthy of banishment from the camp of humanity in the new order the ADL serves.
The ADL’s efforts to censor Twitter confirms what we have known for years: Not only is today’s ADL not doing the world some good. It is doing something much worse.
How much longer will we be allowed to say so?
Ron Coleman is litigation partner in the Dhillon Law Group’s metropolitan New York office. He has been recognized by Jewish and other organizations for his public interest work on behalf of free speech and religious liberties and his support of Jewish institutions and causes. He is also active on Twitter at @roncoleman and hosts a weekly podcast which can be found at www.coleman-nation.com.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.