The Other Side of the Coin

The Changing Role of B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League

By Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal

Following an April raid on the offices of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) by the San Francisco police, the San Francisco Chronicle broke the story of a nationwide political spy operation. ADL had illegally obtained information from a corrupt police officer, Tom Gerard (who fled initially to the Philippines, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S., but later concluded his life was in danger if he stayed overseas), and Roy Bullock, a political informant and infiltrator on the ADL payroll since 1960. In the ADL offices were files on Arab Americans and members of Greenpeace, NAACP, the Mills College faculty and various other institutions, groups and individuals.

B'nai B'rith, ADL's parent organization, was founded in 1843 as a Jewish counterpart of fraternal orders then flourishing in America. The new group's purpose, as described in its constitution, called for the traditional functions performed by Jewish societies in Europe: "Visiting and attending the sick" and "protecting and assisting the widow and the orphan." Its founders had hoped that it soon would encompass all Jews in the United States. This did not happen, however, since other Jewish organizations also were forming around the same time.

In 1913 Leo Frank, a northern Jewish executive of a factory in Atlanta, Georgia, was arrested and charged with the murder of a young girl working in the factory. In an atmosphere of mob fury, he was declared guilty, even though the evidence was inconclusive. He was kidnapped from state prison and lynched. This obvious miscarriage of justice and manifestation of prejudice led to the formation by B'nai B'rith of the ADL as the first group organized explicitly to fight anti-Semitism. What exactly constituted anti-Semitism was to receive continually different interpretations. With the creation of Israel in 1948, the meaning of that word was broadened and, eventually, totally distorted.

Because it dealt with a subject of increasing importance to Jews everywhere, and one about which emotions could be aroused easily, the ADL soon emerged as the most powerful Jewish organization in the U.S., even outshining its B'nai B'rith parent organization and the aristocratic, well-financed American Jewish Committee.

Benjamin Epstein and Arnold Forster, ADL's two most important executives over a 35-year period, wrote a number of widely distributed books, which often received front-page notice even before they were published. These included The Trouble Makers (Doubleday, 1952); Cross Currents (Doubleday, 1956); Some of My Best Friends (Farrar Strauss, 1962); A Danger on the Right (Random House, 1964); Report on the John Birch Society (Random House, 1966); andThe Radical Right (Random House, 1967).

ADL can exert enormous influence and intimidation.

The direction which the organization was to take was made clear in the initial book, which described a "secret meeting" between Azzam Pasha, then secretary-general of the Arab League, and members of a new organization, the Holy Land Emergency Program (HELP), organized to assist the newly created Palestinian refugees. The book charged that a conspiracy was hatched at the meeting to spread anti-Jewish propaganda. In fact, no such meeting ever took place. At the time of the alleged meeting, HELP already had ceased to exist.

At the very outset of the Palestine question, the Anti-Defamation League's publication, The Facts, sought to place an antiSemitic label on the activities of such friends of justice for the dispossessed in Palestine as Barnard College Dean Virginia Gildersleeve, U.S. presidential emissary Kermit Roosevelt, and former American University of Beirut President Bayard Dodge.1The publication's May 1948 issue charged: "Their espousal of the Arab League cause and opposition to Zionism has been marked by the increasingly hostile attitude toward the Jewish people themselves. While anti-Zionism and sympathy for the Arab cause are not necessarily indications of anti-Semitic prejudice, there are many whose pro-Arab utterances and activities have contained sufficiently expressed or implied anti-Semitism to give cause for genuine alarm. "

This same strategy to discredit critics of Israel or defenders of Palestinian human rights has been employed by the ADL ever since. "Guilt by association" and "guilt by juxtaposition"—intermingling the names of those who might more accurately be deemed sincere critics of specific policies of Israel or its U.S. lobbyists with those of notorious bigots like Father Coughlin or Gerald L. K. Smith—have become hallmarks of ADL publications and public pronouncements. By using smear tactics to intimidate or discredit opponents, ADL has largely succeeded in impressing its will and interpretation of Middle East events on American public opinion.

The ADL has some 31 regional offices around the country and three in Canada, with an annual budget of more than $32 million. It employs a professional staff of 400, including specialists in human relations, communications, education, urban affairs, social sciences, religion and law. In addition, it has unpaid representatives in hundreds of communities from coast to coast and has compiled thousands of secret dossiers on private citizens in Canada and the United States.

"Notorious" Activities

In 1983, the ADL released a handbook, Pro-Arab Propaganda in America: Vehicles and Voices,projected to be the first in a regularly updated series. Individuals or organizations who voiced the slightest criticism of Israel or Zionism found themselves listed in this volume with a list of their "notorious" activities. All were portrayed as extremists seeking to abolish the state of Israel and/or incite prejudice against Jewish Americans.

Each regional ADL office has its own board of directors drawn from local leaders and prominent citizens, some of them non-Jews. In hundreds of communities throughout the nation, according to its own pamphlet, "The ADL is able to cooperate as a neighbor to solve important local problems. " Through its multiple private and public reports and publications, allegedly directed against prejudice and bigotry, the ADL can exert enormous influence and intimidation, often bordering on blackmail, in organizations and individuals, particularly people in public life. It provides an indispensable backup for AIPAC's effective lobbying of the Congress and White House on behalf of an ever-increasing economic and military aid to Israel.

As I pointed out in one of my books, The Zionist Connection I (and H), several ADL leaders, including directors Forster and Epstein, Seymour Graubard and the late Dore Schary (playwright, producer and influential figure in Hollywood), have boasted of ADL's use of undercover agents. Trying to be as inoffensive as possible, Newsweek magazine called the ADL's methodology "highly selective" and "never a total portrait." Anyone reviewing the ADL's reports would have to agree with author and famed Unitarian minister Dr. John Nicholls Booth that the ADL continually "strains to fit the products of its own espionage into the procrustean bed of its own personal predilections.

Many ADL charges against critics of Israel and Zionism are totally inaccurate, questionable, or based upon half-truths. Its secret and confidential reports, widely distributed in liberal circles, often attribute the stock quotation, "but some of my best friends are Jews," to its subjects, implying anti-Semitism. Odious impressions are created by twisting or distorting a few words, or the contest in which they were uttered.

With the help of the ADL and the plethora of Zionist and pro-Israel groups with which it cooperates, Israeli intelligence has continued to penetrate into every part of the U.S. The Pollard case represented only the apex of this activity. Even synagogues and rabbis have become unpaid vigilantes in the effort to compile files and lists of alleged anti-Semites, and to obtain any information of possible use to Israel or its U.S. operatives. A cynical Pentagon joke was that confidential military memos had to be typed in triplicate: "One for the White House, one for the State Department, and one for Tel Aviv."

A New Definition of Anti-Semitism

In The New Anti-Semitism, Forster and Epstein's seventh and final book, a new and stunningly broad definition of anti-Semitism was set forth:

"The hostility of the Radical Left, the Radical Right, pro-Arab groups, black extremists, and malingering anti-Jewish hatemongering that has plagued the United States since the early '20s has allegedly now been augmented by others within the government, the media, the clergy and the arts who are insensitive to Jews and Jewish concerns, particularly to the needs and wants of the state of Israel. The heart of the new anti-Semitism abroad in our land lies in the widespread incapacity or unwillingness to comprehend the necessity of the existence of Israel to Jewish safety and survival throughout the world. "

In his foreword to the tract, national ADL Chairman Seymour Graubard laid the groundwork for the kind of tactics recognizable in the current revelations from San Francisco:

"While the memory of the Nazi Holocaust was fresh in mind, anti-Semitism was silenced. As that memory fades, however, as Jews are more and more being considered a part of the Establishment, there are new growths of anti-Semitism. They are being nurtured in a climate of general insensitivity and deterioration of morality and ethics, the kind of climate, history reminds us, in which anti-Semitism grows best. "

The ADL was ever ready to apply the smear and vilification so as to censure and silence, thus building an iron curtain over America that would bar any criticism, however constructive, of Israel, Zionists, or Jews (Judaism is rarely, if ever, involved). The book from which the quotations above were taken led New York Post columnist James Wechsler, a long-time, avid friend of Israel, to write that the latest ADL work "is grievously flavored by an intolerance of their own in equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. " Calling the presentation "illegitimate and uncivil," the columnist decried a work which "proceeds from a well-documented dissection of the frenzies of an obvious anti-Semite, Gerald L. K. Smith, to a loose indictment of Senator J. William Fulbright and columnists Evans and Novak. They do not explicitly apply the label 'anti-Semitic' to the latter three. But the context in which the attack appears-indeed their inclusion in the volume-carries, to borrow their words, 'an unmistakable message' and an inescapable 'innuendo. "'

It can be said without exaggeration that the ADL is the single most influential organization in the United States. It works closely with the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, and sometimes with the FBI or CIA. Through its multifold activities and ability to crush dissent, it is probably more responsible for American attitudes and American foreign policy toward the Middle East than any other single force.

The annual Washington conferences of the parent organization, B'nai B'rith, draw the presence of presidents and presidential aspirants. No politician with national ambitions will forego the opportunity of doing public battle with the specter of Adolf Hitler. At these conferences, however, ADL itself maintains the lowest possible profile. Few of these same politicians are prepared to associate themselves with its violations of the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, and the letter of America's Bill of Rights.

1Its January-February 1957 issue devoted its four pages to detailing the "noxious" and varied activities of this writer following the publication of What Price Israel? three years earlier.

Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal is the author of There Goes the Middle East, The Other Side of the Coin,and the monumental The Zionist Connection. He edits the Middle East Perspective Reader.