Some sources are linked here; others will be added shortly.
What is the ADL?
The ADL was launched about 100 years ago to counteract anti-Semitism in US media and culture, and soon became known for monitoring white supremacist groups. The ADL selectively supported Black civil rights demands in the 1960s, and became a national player in “tolerance education” and hate crimes legislation. The ADL now weighs in on a wider set of issues, including free speech, religious freedom, refugee rights, and LGBTQ rights. It calls itself “our nation’s premier civil rights/human relations organization” and is widely considered an authority on anti-Semitism. For these reasons, the ADL is accorded respect (and a measure of fear) by elected officials and the media.
Unfortunately, the ADL’s work on rights has been filtered through its conservative views, including staunch Cold War anti-Communism, fear that social justice movements threaten the US state, support for the Israeli state and its violence, and Islamophobic “security” concerns. This has led the ADL to consistently undermine the work of people of color: opposing affirmative action; spying on anti-racist, anti-apartheid, LGBTQ, labor, and other groups; supporting Muslim surveillance; coming out against the Movement 4 Black Lives; and smearing those who call for Palestinian rights—and who challenge the ADL’s positions—as “anti-Semites.”
What’s wrong with trying to find common ground with the ADL?
Working with the ADL as an ally paradoxically increases the ADL’s ability to attack anti-racist and social justice movements. It helps the ADL claim to be a leader on civil rights, which is a powerful position to hold in US politics. The ADL uses that role to narrowly define rights in corridors of power where grassroots groups are not invited, and to say whose voices calling for rights should be heard.
In practice, the ADL uses its respected position to undermine work to end racist policing and Islamophobic “security” policies and wars. It undermines efforts to separate anti-Semitism from criticism of Israel, making it more difficult to address actual anti-Semitism. It displaces the voices and ideas of affected communities, replacing it with mostly white, privileged, straight and male leaders working hand in hand with police and the state. It especially undercuts the cross-movement work that makes links between different forms of racialized, gendered state violence.