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DOUBTING DEI

Former ADL, AJC leaders Abe Foxman and David Harris call for scrapping DEI

Their positions are in contrast with the groups’ current desire to work within the system

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Former ADL national director Abe Foxman and former AJC CEO David Harris

Abe Foxman and David Harris, two former longtime leaders of prominent Jewish communal organizations, called for an end to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) bureaucracy at colleges on Wednesday. 

In separate statements, the former heads of the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee argued that DEI efforts on college campuses should be overhauled because of the major challenges it poses to the liberal understanding of societal aims.

Foxman and Harris’ stances contrast with their organizations’ current positions on how to deal with DEI. ADL and AJC leaders told JI this week their organizations are urging universities to better incorporate Jews into the DEI infrastructure, instead of calling on them to dismantle the ideology behind DEI altogether.

Foxman, who served as the Anti-Defamation League’s national director for 28 years until 2015, insisted that DEI “cannot be fixed.” 

He said that part of the problem is that DEI is “based on a faulty premise — that racism is a function of oppressed and oppressors [and] that all white people are oppressors and all people of color [are] oppressed.”

The results, Foxman said, are “bias, illiberalism, reinforced, legitimized and institutionalized antisemitism in many institutions.”

Foxman added: “It has built a huge funded bureaucracy which is today difficult to change or amend. Efforts by communal Jewish organizations to include the Jewish community or soften its impact on antisemitism have failed. It cannot be fixed,  it needs to be scrapped and replaced by a vigorous implementation of our civil rights laws that are color blind, and apply equally to all. If necessary some civil rights laws can be amended and strengthened. DEI was developed to eliminate bias but sadly it created bias.” 

David Harris, the longtime CEO of the American Jewish Committee CEO, echoed similar criticisms of DEI.

“DEI has evolved into a mammoth, ideologically-driven presence on many campuses, some of which have literally hundreds of staff working exclusively in this space,” Harris told JI.  

“Accordingly, I don’t believe that outside efforts, however well-intentioned, that nibble around the edges or simply seek to add Jews to the DEI agenda, address the heart of the problem. DEI today poses a major challenge to liberal understanding of American societal aims, so the goal of rethinking it conceptually is far more urgent than just trying to get along with it.”

Current AJC and ADL leaders told JI their organizations are taking an engage-and-influence approach— and had been doing so well before Oct. 7. 

Sara Coodin, AJC’s director of academic affairs, said that the group “engages pretty regularly and partners with universities to work on education programs that can have the kinds of results we are looking for, more inclusion for Jewish students.”

“We tend not to take an overly divisive approach when it comes to DEI,” she said, pointing to an AJC-run trip that brings DEI university staff to Israel. 

Adam Neufeld, senior vice president and chief impact officer at the ADL, described a similar approach. “[DEI framework] can be applied in an antisemitic way but I think it can also be applied in a way that respects and brings light and makes people understand antisemitism,” he told JI.

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