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Wikipedia Banned the ADL. Why Hasn’t The Asian American Foundation?

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Blue duotone, side-by-side images of protest in front of a building with a wall of windows. A tall dragon figure is in the center; a masked person holds a sign on the left, a sign with just the hand holding it appears lower right.

The struggle over TAAF’s ties to the ADL reflects a deeper question confronting our movements: Will we allow Zionism and Islamophobia to fester in progressive spaces, or will we double down on our solidarity with the struggle for Palestine and all movements against colonialism, occupation, and imperialism?

Unsuspecting  elected officials, media personalities, and nonprofit leaders arriving at The Asian American Foundation’s (TAAF) black-tie awards gala in May encountered a spirited picket line calling out the foundation’s complicity with the genocide in Gaza.  Protesters waved signs that read “Stop Asian Hate Means Palestinians, Too!” and “Take ADL Away Forever,” and chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Greenblatt has got to go,” demanding that TAAF remove Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) from its Board of Directors.  Organized by Asians for Palestine NYC, the protest  brought together  progressive leaders, several organizations that receive funding from the foundation, and vendors who withdrew from the week of events around the gala. Among those vendors was Yu And Me Books, which cited the ADL’s support for “the oppression of Palestinians and other disenfranchised groups” in its call for TAAF to reconsider its ties to Greenblatt and the ADL.

The protest at the awards gala built on eight months of organizing.  It parallels widespread demands by students that their schools cut ties with Israel and divest from the apartheid state and weapons manufacturers who profit off war.

These actions and calls to cut ties from ADL, in turn, can be seen as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement founded in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organizations. Under Greenblatt’s leadership, ADL has led efforts to criminalize BDS, and has made it clear on a number of occasions that it  considers the movement to be anti-Semitic, “a modern version of irrational hatred for the Jewish people.”  The organization is also supporting the criminalization of campus groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, and  has a track record of suppressing Muslim and Palestinian First Amendment rights. In 2018, they surveilled activist groups Jewish Voice for Peace and Occupation Free D.C., and shared data and intelligence with law enforcement agencies, as documented by Jewish Currents.

The ADL: from defending civil rights to bolstering Zionism

Since its founding in 1913, the ADL has fought against anti-Semitism and for civil rights —but those contributions are eclipsed by its rabid support for Zionism and its practice of targeting and surveilling progressive organizations, and supporting racist, militarized policing. The organization’s priorities have shifted since its inception. Once upon a time, it filed legal briefs in favor of abortion rights, investigated neo-Nazis, supported the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and denounced the power of the religious Right.  But the ADL’s fraught history has brought scrutiny over the years, as freedom of information requests concerning controversial partnerships reveal how the ADL targets Muslim leaders and maligns organizations like the Movement for Black Lives and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), discrediting them as terrorist-supporting entities and hate groups. But this tactic of undermining civil rights organizations for supporting Palestinians is not new—when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee critiqued Zionism in 1967, the ADL called the revolutionary student group anti-Semitic.

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Greenblatt’s hiring of George Selim, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Islamophobic “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) program, indicates the organization’s partnerships with right-wing government agencies and institutions that criminalize and further impede on the civil rights of Muslims and activists. One of the ADL’s signature programs is their ‘Leadership Seminar in Israel,’ where they host and train US police in Israel’s militarized policing techniques. TAAF’s ties with the ADL help legitimate an  organization that works against the interests and safety of our community.

CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has been a leading voice in suppressing pro-Palestinian students and emboldening violence against protestors on campus, whom he smeared on national television as “Iranian proxies.” Greenblatt has proudly consulted with universities like Harvard and Penn, urging administrators not to negotiate with student protesters and to “eliminate” encampments.  In August 2020, at the height of Black Lives Matter movement protests, more than 60 social movement groups formed the #DropTheADL campaign to spotlight the organization’s activities and urge other organizations “to reconsider the ADL as a partner in social justice work.”  Now more than 100 organizations are scrutinizing its “history and ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements led by communities of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, and perpetrators of state violence,” and the pressure to end relationships with the ADL and Greenblatt is only growing.

On June 21, 2024, Wikipedia, the world’s leading encyclopedia, with billions of monthly users, voted to declare the ADL as “generally unreliable” as a source of information about anti-Semitism and the Israel-Palestine crisis. The decision places the ADL alongside other disreputable banned sources that include right-wing disinformation agents such as InfoWars and Newsmax.  

By banning the organization, Wikipedia recognized the illegitimacy of the ADL as a trusted source—so why is The Asian American Foundation refusing to remove Jonathan Greenblatt from its leadership? By continuing to partner with the ADL, TAAF not only legitimizes the ADL’s pro-genocidal activities to erode the rights of Palestinian and Muslim communities—it betrays TAAF’s own commitment to address the root causes of hate and discrimination.

“Stop Asian Hate” must include Palestinians

TAAF was founded in May 2021, in the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings and the ongoing wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans; it is a $1 billion philanthropic organization claiming to be committed to “building a safer, more inclusive future for AAPIs everywhere” by using its deep pockets to fund “best-in-class organizations” that work to confront anti-Asian discrimination. But the presence of Jonathan Greenblatt on TAAF’s Board of Directors has drawn concern from Asian activists who say that Greenblatt’s staunch support of Israel and smears against supporters of Palestine undermine TAAF’s supposed vision for a more inclusive future.

A growing chorus of critics has made sure that TAAF’s leaders hear loud and clear the extent of the ADL’s repressive tactics—tactics that have only escalated since October 7. An open letter initiated by 18 Million Rising and signed by over 70 Asian American and allied progressive organizations called on TAAF leadership to cease working with the ADL and to remove Greenblatt from leadership. The Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) recently rejected a $50,000 grant from TAAF, citing the “existing TAAF leadership structure which goes against the tenets and values of the AAAS Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolution.” Award-winning chef Jenny Dorsey and several other talented chefs boycotted TAAF’s annual Asian Pacific Islander Culinary Conference, condemning the philanthropic giant for its silence on Israel’s brutal assault on Palestinians.

TAAF’s portfolio includes organizations on the frontlines of anti-hate movements, many of which serve South and Southeast Asian Muslim and immigrant communities who have been detained, entrapped and surveilled by police and immigration deportation systems. Community leaders like Jane Shim, the director of the Asian American Legal and Defense Fund’s Stop Asian Hate Project, have been advocating against increasing police budgets as a response to Asian hate, highlighting the flaws of the decades-long tough-on-crime policies that have failed to prevent harm and discrimination. TAAF’s relationship with the ADL is in direct contradiction with the goals and values they claim to espouse, and serves as a dangerous example of how Asian American organizations can become tied to right-wing agendas if they are not more discerning about their leadership and funding sources.  

At its core, the struggle over TAAF’s ties to the ADL reflects a deeper question confronting our movements. Will we allow Zionism and Islamophobia to fester in progressive spaces, or will we double down on our solidarity with the struggle for Palestine and all movements against colonialism, occupation, and imperialism? The battle lines are drawn—it’s up to TAAF to decide which side they are on. 

An earlier version of this story appeared in Mondoweiss,  an independent outlet dedicated to telling the truth about Israel. Palestine and the US.

Featured image: Scenes from the protest at The Asian American Foundation’s annual awards gala May 2, 2024. Photos courtesy of 18 Million Rising.

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