ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and ADL Senior Vice President George Selim answer questions from the audience.
Annistique Photography

Greenblatt talks of rising anti-Semitism, political polarity and action during his presentation at the Berman Theater in West Bloomfield.

I have one main job: to protect the Jewish people. That is my charge,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told a crowd of about 300 May 23 at the Berman Theater in West Bloomfield.

The ADL began in 1913 to combat discrimination against Jewish people. For more than 100 years, its mission statement remains: “To stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment for all.”

Greenblatt’s presentation, “A New Look at the Oldest Hatred,” came to Metro Detroit at a time of unprecedented anti-Semitism in the U.S. and abroad. According to Greenblatt, hate crimes against Jews showed a 99 percent increase from 2015 to 2018. And there have been twice as many physical assaults and three times as many victims in 2018 as compared to 2016.

Although anti-Semitism is not new, he said the pace at which it is spreading and affecting people is unprecedented, calling it the “normalization of anti-Semitism.”

He went on to discuss the “ascendency of the radical left” as well as the “institutionalization of the extreme right.” Greenblatt feels this ever-increasing polarization between political stands is dangerous for the Jewish community. However, he maintained ADL is not a political organization but a moral one.

Lastly, Greenblatt cited the “changing nature of Jewish identity” within younger generations as well as uncertainty in the Middle East as causes of increasing anti-Semitic sentiments.
“Anti-Semitism isn’t some abstraction,” said George Selim, ADL senior vice president of programs, who also spoke. “It’s our reality.”

The pair discussed anti-Semitism on a national and global scale, but also addressed the very local issue of U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been accused of anti-Semitism for her comments on Palestine. During a podcast interview, Tlaib said that her Palestinian ancestors lost their land, lives, livelihoods and dignity in order to provide a safe haven for Jews after the Holocaust.

“Not only was what she said wrong, but the other side’s reaction was wrong,” Selim said. “They made anti-Semitism into a football.”

The presentation was not all doom-and-gloom. ADL has plans to increase cyber surveillance and improve technology to track and intercept hate. It hopes to get cyber-hate laws passed in all 50 states. The organization is also upgrading capabilities to track potentially dangerous extremism on and offline. It also plans to expand its existing programs to educate young people about hate.

Greenblatt offered three ways to fight anti-Semitism: Speak up, share the facts and show strength. He and Selim took questions from the audience.

Frankel Jewish Academy students who belong to the school’s ADL chapter, founded in 2015, assisted during the program. Co-presidents Hannah Gorman and Benny Shaevsky feel that educating people on current anti-Semitism is one way to effect change.

“With the rise in anti-Semitism, it’s important to educate people on the harm hate causes both to the Jewish community and other minority communities,” Shaevsky said.

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