Anti-Defamation League national director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has come under fire from Jewish groups for appearing on the MSNBC show “Politics Nation With Al Sharpton” on Sunday to promote the ADL’s call for corporations to boycott Facebook in July over its unwillingness to ban hate speech on the social-media giant’s platform. While the message seems on target with ADL’s work, the idea of partnering with someone like Sharpton, who has a history of anti-Semitism and other bigotry, is hypocritical, if not counterproductive, they say.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean and director of global social action, suggested that it was wrong of Greenblatt to appear the show since the well-known reverend, who these days makes more television appearances then leads a congregational flock, has never apologized to the Jewish community for his words and actions.
In addition to anti-Semitic rhetoric Sharpton has spewed over the years, his instigating violence during the August 1991 riots in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., against the Chassidic Jewish community remains etched in history.
Cooper insisted that boycotting Facebook isn’t the answer. The approach, he said, should be to get social-media companies “to do more because they can.”
“No one’s going to keep” the boycott, he noted, adding that the Wiesenthal Center will not be part of it.
Cooper suggested that these online companies be threatened with government regulation, which he called “the real cudgel.”
During the appearance, Greenblatt criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for retweeting a video of a Trump supporter in Florida riding in a golf cart and responding to a protester calling him a racist with, “White power! White power!” (Trump later deleted the retweet.)
Greenblatt said that Trump is “only able to divide and not unite.”
In June, the ADL joined with several other groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Sleeping Giants, Color of Change, Free Press and Common Sense, to target Facebook. They placed a June 17 full-page ad in The Los Angeles Times alleging that it has not done enough to combat hate and disinformation.
“We have long seen how Facebook has allowed some of the worst elements of society into our homes and our lives,” said Greenblatt in a statement. “When this hate spreads online, it causes tremendous harm and also becomes permissible offline.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has faced continued criticism for not doing more to police his platform for false or misleading statements, including from the president himself. Instead, the company has launched a massive drive to boost voter registration across its platforms as part of a “Voting Information Center” to help educate voters on how to register, find polling places or send ballots in by mail.
The campaign launched by the ADL and others to target hate groups on Facebook is being met with concern that it could encroach on issues of free speech and lead to the censoring of political ads by conservatives.
Greenblatt, a veteran of the Obama and Clinton administrations, has also been criticized for moving his organization away from a nonpartisan stance and embracing the politics of the Democratic Party.
Sharpton, host of the weekly one-hour show on the left-leaning cable-news network since 2011 (he had a failed run in 2004 for the Democratic presidential nomination), has long been embraced by Democratic politicians.
‘Fighting an uphill battle’
Former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, did not hold back in rebuking Greenblatt, calling the ADL leader’s appearance with Sharpton “pathetic,” “sickening” and “the worst hypocrisy in the world.”
“How in G-d’s name isn’t the ADL ashamed of themselves?” posed Hikind. “They need to explain to the public and their supporters why it is OK to align yourself with Al Sharpton, a race-baiter and inciter of violence in the Crown Heights riots.”
Referring to the ADL’s moniker, Hikind retorted: “What about Sharpton’s defamation of the Jewish people?”
Liora Rez, director of StopAntisemitism.org, told JNS that while her organization supports any “attempt to help put a stop to the endless hate content taking over social media,” Greenblatt’s appearance with Sharpton, whom Rez called “an individual that perpetuates such hate,” is an “extremely troubling” matter.
Nonetheless, she expressed a willingness to support the boycott.
“We have been endlessly fighting an uphill battle of anti-Semitic hatred on Facebook since our inception; if a July boycott of the social-media giant will result in a decrease of bigotry and hatred, regardless of its origin, we will 100 [percent] back it,” said Rez.
Mort Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, told JNS that the ADL should not align itself with Sharpton to combat hatred.
The social-media site, said Klein, “should remove hateful sites and posts, such as those promoting [Palestinian] ‘Days of Rage,’ Islamist groups, hate group [Students for Justice in Palestine], and anti-Semitic, anti-Israel BDS and demonization of Israel and Jews.”
Bryan Leib, chairman of HaShevet, a new alliance of young Jewish American leaders that was formed amid dissatisfaction with mainstream Jewish advocacy organizations such as the ADL, echoed Klein as it pertains to Greenblatt and Sharpton, though questioned the Facebook boycott.
“We are committed to dialogue that unites communities rather than divides, like Reverend Al Sharpton has done for decades. It is hypocritical for the Anti-Defamation League’s head to work with someone who has long defamed Jews—and put on Congressional Record for references to ‘Bloodsucking Jews’ and ‘Jew Bastards’—without apologizing,” said Leib. “Surely, Mr. Greenblatt can find more a suitable partner in policing hate speech than someone whose rhetoric once fueled a targeted, lethal attack on Brooklyn’s Jewish community.”
Simultaneously, Facebook shouldn’t be the “the only social-media company to be targeted in this boycott led by the ADL,” said Leib.
He noted “a tremendous amount of hate speech on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok,” saying those sites should also be boycotted.