The Anti-Defamation League has made a startling confession: It is now including pro-Palestine marches in its count of antisemitic incidents in the United States.
The ADL released its annual antisemitism report on Wednesday, announcing that there were a stunning 3,283 such incidents in 2023. That’s a 361 percent increase compared to the previous year, according to the organization, which noted the “American Jewish community is facing a threat level that’s now unprecedented in modern history.”
The organization also stated that two-thirds of the total incidents could be “directly related to the Israel-Hamas war.”
The ADL report was widely covered by mainstream outlets like CNN, NBC, and Axios, which simply took the organization’s word for the gigantic increase without actually checking the data behind the claim.
Not all media outlets fumbled the ball, however. As The Forward first noted, there’s one big problem with the numbers: The ADL admits in its own press release that it includes pro-Palestine rallies in its list of antisemitic incidents, even if these featured no overt hostility toward Jewish people. Any anti-Israel or anti-Zionist chants are enough for the ADL’s new definition of antisemitism.
The report’s full list of antisemitic incidents isn’t public, but under the new definition, it could even count anti-Israel protests by Jewish activists as antisemitic. Many Jewish Americans have been at the forefront of the pro-Palestine protests over the last three months.
The 2023 report includes a whopping 1,317 rallies in its list of antisemitic incidents, with no clear distinction between whether the rallies included antisemitic rhetoric or anti-Zionist chants and without regard for whether there were Jewish organizers or participants involved. In other words, the underlying data in support of this assertion is likely to be considerably inflated.
Antisemitism is a real, and growing, problem—especially in the United States. But the ADL isn’t helping anyone when it defines a bomb threat at a synagogue and a Students for Justice in Palestine rally as equally antisemitic.
The problems with ADL’s reporting methods have been obvious for some time to anyone paying close attention. As Eric Alterman wrote for The New Republic, the ADL has, since its founding, repeatedly changed its counting method—and then followed these periodic rejiggerings with reports asserting massive increases in antisemitic incidents. Even more troubling, the organization habitually fails to make distinctions between the various antisemitic incidents it is tracking. Graffiti found on the walls of a college dorm gets lumped together with more deadly tragedies, such as the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The organization’s reporting has taken an even greater turn for the worse under chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt. In 2015, he began his leadership at the organization with a speech that made virtually no mention of the dangers of white Christian nationalism. And on Israel, Greenblatt in 2022 firmly announced: “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism, full stop.”
In October, an ADL researcher resigned over Greenblatt’s condemnation of Jewish Americans protesting Israel’s war on Gaza. But the next month, Greenblatt only doubled down on his position, when he said that pro-Palestine activism has “clarified and confirmed that fanatical anti-Zionism from the hard left is as dangerous to the Jewish community as rabid white supremacy from the extreme right.”
Along the way, Greenblatt has demonstrated a hesitance to criticize one of the more appalling antisemites in public life: Elon Musk. The two men’s strange alliance has drawn criticism from Greenblatt’s predecessor, Abe Foxman.
All that to say, the ADL’s new counting method isn’t a huge surprise. But it sure is disappointing to see so many media outlets take the organization’s word at face value.