(ADL Headquarters in Jerusalem/ Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Neal Ungerleider)

A Facebook friend recently shared an obscure message referring to a “certain organization” publishing a list of “anti-Israel” groups, among them the Jewish Voice For Peace. She made no mention of the name of the organization sitting in judgment and making the public condemnation.

This Facebook connection thought it might be indecent, or perhaps indelicate, to refer to the organization publishing the list. She thought that naming the organization might be a form of “Lashon Hara”, Hebrew for “bad mouthing” or gossip or, surely in this case, character assassination.

I had to laugh…

For this is just what the “certain organization”, namely the Anti-Defamation League, has done with its branding of various groups as “anti-Israel.” And that is not a laughing matter.

Here is what the Anti-Defamation League says about itself:

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Now the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all. (ADL website)

Apparently the ADL considers itself superior to such civil rights advocates as the Center For Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. Perhaps that hubris led to its assumption of authority to condemn activist groups such as the Jewish Voice For Peace to social ostracism and marginalization.

The concept of “Lashon Hara” has a long and interesting history in the Jewish tradition. The ancients considered “Lashon Hara” a sin as evil as murder. In fact it was on par with murder, since its victims were condemned to social ostracism. And in an ancient desert culture, social ostracism was a death warrant. One needed the society simply to survive.

In today’s political climate, wherein the US is all over the entire world like ugly on an ape, spying on leaders and citizens alike, turning its domestic police forces into assault units, its president meeting every Tuesday to choose whom to blow away with drones or bombs or whatever- the ADL’s publication of a list of “anti-Israel” groups- its own definition, by the way- seems an invitation to violence against these groups. At least a “no fly list”, maybe. Something here smells like Joseph McCarthy. Something here smells of autocracy, not democracy. So why, Anti-defamation League, do you taint your organization, in spite of its distinguished history of actually defending democratic ideals, with a blacklist?

I have been proud to stand with members of Jewish Voice For Peace when I felt that Israelhad gone off in the wrong direction in its policies and programs. I would be proud to do so today. I do not consider myself “anti-Israel” at all. Quite the contrary. But I do feel that Israel is drifting into an authoritarian approach to its own citizens and to Jews around the world- with regard to any sort of dissent against policies and programs we condemn. That is a very dangerous drift.

Presumably the ADL claims to know the truth about all the groups on its list. It also claims to know the truth about what is best for Israel, and who really loves Israel. In that it places itself in an “in-crowd” to which, apparently, only it can allow admission. How about that for autocracy?

Chabad, yes Chabad, warns against what it terms a “hierarchy of truth” which it deems anti-Jewish and anti-Israel:

Before, there was a hierarchy of truth. The high priest of Egypt had the real truth. The scribes had secrets of the truth. Their initiated students had inklings. The people wallowed in ignorance. Moses, the revolutionary, changed all that. At Mount Sinai, all men, women and children, princes and commoners, priests and workers, had to be present. All received the same truth, all at once. Even the priestly rites were made public knowledge. Before, power and authority was based on withholding knowledge. In a Torah world, authority is established through universal knowledge… (Chabad website)

And of course, with “universal knowledge” comes dissent. Two Jews Ten Opinions has humorously been considered practically the eleventh commandment. Torah commentaries allude to the possibility that each person who stood at Sinai saw the truth- or gained knowledge- in their own individual way. So the danger in accepting Chabad’s vision of “universal truth”, and the Anti-Defamation League’s blacklist as valid, is that of idolatry- of confusing opinion, or worse, dictation, with truth.

Uri Avnery, the well-known Israeli writer, journalist, commentator, and political savant recently examined the tension between Israel and the Diaspora as Jewish- and Israel and the Diaspora as democratic:

A recent alarmist TV documentary quoted demographers who forecast that in thirty years or so the haredim will constitute the majority of Jewish citizens in Israel, by virtue of their enormous birthrate. This would turn Israel into something similar to today’s Saudi Arabia or Iran. The secular population, now in the majority, would probably escape from such a country to greener Jewish pastures in New York or Berlin… A bill now being debated in the Knesset would overturn the present doctrine of Israel being a “Jewish and democratic state” and replace it with the doctrine that Israel is “the nation-state of the Jewish people”…That is presented as the fulfillment of Zionism, but is in fact the very negation of Zionism.

As Avnery sees it, trying to squeeze the genie and genius of Jews and Israel into a bottle labelled “nation-state” – without the democracy- would eliminate the vital, the essential life fluid: diversity, dissent, argument, free speech and free press. Messy, passionate, and downright indispensable.

That is what the Anti-Defamation League has tried to do in silencing and shunning the Jewish groups- truly all the groups- it blacklisted. And its publishing a list of “anti-Israel” organizations of any sort whatsoever has to be called into question publicly- given the ADL’s own definition of its vision and purpose.


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