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ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on the state of antisemitism

Greenblatt suggested that efforts to create an alternate to the IHRA working definition of antisemitism are 'a real waste of time'

Jennifer Liseo/ADL

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt joined Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast” hosts Jarrod Bernstein and Rich Goldberg this week to discuss antisemitism, online hate and the ADL’s new report on antisemitic incidents in 2020.

By the numbers: “Our 25 offices around the country collect this data all year long,” said Greenblatt of the new ADL report on 2020, issued this week. “And it’s submitted to us directly by victims or synagogues or schools or law enforcement officials. We might hear a media report and then we check up on it. We verify every incident that we report. So it’s all very credible, bulletproof data.” Greenblatt said the report shows that despite the COVID lockdown in 2020, “we still saw the third-highest total of antisemitic incidents we’ve ever tracked at ADL.” The ADL CEO said the organization was surprised by the figures, because it expected antisemitism to drop last year “dramatically, because no one was on a college campus. Offices were closed. Schools were shuttered. People weren’t going to worship in synagogues.”

On IHRA: Greenblatt weighed in on the controversy over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, and the proliferation of other definitions, which he called a “great example of a tempest in a teapot.” The IHRA definition, he said, “was an intellectually honest and objective and scholarly effort to develop a consensus definition.” ADL adopted the IHRA definition in 2018, Greenblatt said, but he doesn’t believe it should be used “as a piece of policy… it’s intended to inform a process, not to be a process.” The ADL CEO added that he therefore views efforts to create new definitions to be “a real waste of time.”  

Misplaced efforts: Greenblatt noted that he had personally expressed his opposition to a letter being circulated by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) encouraging Secretary of State Tony Blinken to consider alternative definitions to that of the IHRA. “I don’t think we need any new definitions,” he recalled telling her in a recent conversation. “I wish Congresswoman Schakowsky — who I like very much, she’s an excellent legislator — and all of these other individuals would take their energy and channel it toward actually addressing antisemitism itself, because that’s where we really need help.”

Lightning round: Favorite Yiddish word? “Tachlis. It translates roughly to like, ‘What’s the meat of the issue? What’s the real deal? So I like that a lot. Because I always want to try to talk tachlis with people. And just, like, cut to the chase.” Favorite Jewish food? Ashkenazi: Matzah brei. Mizrahi: Gondi Tehrani.

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