Sheikh Jarrah: Civilizers, Colonizers, and the Anti-Defamation League
We, the dispossessed, know struggle. We know suffering, surveillance, and threat. We know genocide. We know the tactics of the settler colonial state and how whiteness leverages “civility” against Black and Indigenous bodies. We also know, as true as our histories of suffering and subjugation, that our freedom struggles are not separate. The state of our interlocking freedom requires unwavering solidarity and centered accountability. We must never leverage resources, wealth, or access to power that requires our advancement while another languishes. Black Southern visionary Septima Clark told us that she believed unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth, and Indigenous ancestors have always centered our responsibility in the wellbeing of future generations. The Civil Society Fellowship has been told the truth about the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Aspen Institute and Civil Society Fellowship must immediately Drop the ADL.
More than 100 well-respected racial, economic, and social justice organizations signed an open letter after many years of the ADL sabotaging progressive, multiracial organizing efforts, and organizers being unable to change the ADL through dialogue and engagement. ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt, who serves on the Executive committee of the Civil Society Fellowship, dismissed the Movement for Black Lives demands concerning the Palestinian struggle for freedom from occupation and genocide as fiction. M4BL’s demands are anchored in an analysis that links racialized imperialist oppression to the genocide of the Palestinian people. He rebuffed, “The Jewish Community knows too much about genocide.” Whose land are you on, Jonathan?
What does the ADL have to teach us about civility?
Police do not keep us safe, and they do not produce a more “civil society.” Police and the carceral state are death-making by design and cannot be reformed. The ADL is the single largest non-governmental police trainer in the country. Will the ADL stop sending police to Israel to train with the Israeli military? Will it stop its support for training American police in surveillance techniques designed to subdue communities of color? Will it stop encouraging congregations to bring heavily militarized police SWAT teams into their communities? Do the ADL’s attacks on Palestinians organizing to challenge regimes and demand governments respond to a human rights crisis produce a more civil society? Will the ADL reverse its support for the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which leans heavily on equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and has repeatedly been used to sabotage Palestinian activism?
The “engage civil discourse” tactic has been used to suppress dissent and slow justice for centuries. Black and Native communities naming and disrupting the violence of settler colonial projects has always been characterized as too angry, too loud, too aggressive. It isn’t an accident that “civilizers,” settler-colonizers, and the carceral state place the burden of “act right.” Gaye Theresa Johnson, and the work of many others, orient us to the “inherently undemocratic, unequal and racist relationship between “civilizers” and those considered uncivil.” The bar is unequal by design.
Despite what the Civil Society Fellowship website reads, we do not believe that the ADL is an “effective advocate on civil rights and matters of justice.” Our hands are on the freedom plow together. We are deliberate and organizing toward a society where Black liberation and Indigenous sovereignty is realized through collective care and mutual aid. We will not lend our Black and Native femme labor to “reform” the ADL through conversation as Civil Society fellows. We call on the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Civil Society Fellowship cohorts to do more in this moment than “converse” about the realities surrounding the ADL.
At this moment, Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem are being viciously attacked by illegal Israeli settlers attempting to drive them from their homes. Worshippers in the Al Aqsa mosque, who dared to raise their voices in protest, are being bombed, tear gassed, and shot by Israeli forces; meanwhile the ADL piously condemns Palestinians for “fanning the flames of hatred,” asserts that the expulsion of Palestinian families is “complicated,” and defends attacks on crowds of worshippers as exercising “Israel’s right to self-defense.” We stand with fearless voices and leadership of Linda Sarsour, Nick Estes, Purvi Shah, and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson.
The material and generational outcomes of ADL’s campaigns continue to produce uncivil and unjust conditions for our Palestinian sisters and siblings whose fight is ours too. We have been told the truth and now we must act in accordance with the mandate our elders and ancestors entrusted to us. In order for us to remain in the Civil Society Fellowship, we must drop the ADL.
Jasmine Banks and Percilla Frizzell, 2021 Aspen and ADL Civil Society Fellows