This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Marc Steiner: Welcome to Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, good to have you with us. A new report by the Anti-Defamation League, or the ADL, show there was an exponential leap in white supremacy incidents and propaganda in the year 2019. This ADL report recorded on a 120% increase, more than doubling the number of incidents that were recorded in 2018. The ADL, which was once part of the civil rights struggle in America, has in recent years hardly taken up the banner against racism at all. One could argue that in recent years, it’s done very little to combat racism, but seems to be morphing into a lobby organization to promote the Israeli government and accuse critics of Israeli policy of being anti-Semites, many of whom are associated with the Black Lives Matter movement when they seek solidarity with, for example, let’s say, the struggles in the Gaza strip. So, let’s unpack the most recent report.
It’s good for the ADL to be joining the fight against white supremacy, we all have to, but is it part of a strategy to legitimize their efforts to support the Netanyahu government and his policies among the left and recruit support for the Israeli occupation among African Americans and other groups in our country? Well, there’s that and there’s much more to talk about with our guests who joins us once again. Phyllis Bennis, who’s a fellow and direct with the New Internationalism Project at the Institute For Policy Studies in D.C. and the author of numerous books, our latest is a revised edition of Understanding The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. And Phyllis, welcome, great to have you back with us.
Phyllis Bennis: Great to be with you Marc.
Marc Steiner: So, one of the things that struck me reading this report was that Trump’s name never came up at all in this report. They never talked about his rallying of white supremacists and the way he did. Let’s look at this clip.
Donald Trump: When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. If I win, they’re going back. It’s okay to know it’s Mussolini. Look, Mussolini was Mussolini. It’s okay to… it’s a very good quote on it. Honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him. I pretty sure I didn’t meet him.
Marc Steiner: And so, Trump has made a name for kind of aligning himself with these groups very, very quietly and sometimes not so overtly, but doing it. The shooter in Pittsburgh that was inspired by Trump. The report glosses over that completely, doesn’t talk about that at all. But tries also [inaudible 00:02:23] on the left. So what’s at work here?
Phyllis Bennis: Well, I think this is actually consistent with a long part of ADLs history, which has always linked opposition to white supremacy and some good work and investigating episodes of white supremacy, indexing it, having a report every year on the rise in white supremacy attacks, while at the same time largely refusing to hold states and governments that it supports, namely the United States and Israel, accountable for having any role to play. It as if all of white supremacy just emerges from civil society has nothing to do with governments, no one in power, for example, Donald Trump, plays any role in encouraging it despite, as you say, the very clear links when Trump announced that the racists and fascists and Nazis who were marching in Charlottesville were pretty good people. Or the way he talks about immigrants leading to the shooting up of a synagogue killing nine people in Pittsburgh, where the shooter said explicitly that it was because that synagogue, and by extension Jews in general, were supporting the rights of refugees as of course many Jews traditionally have.
So it’s this refusal to acknowledge the role of the state and playing a role in fact with agencies of the state. So the ADL has for years, for decades, been very wrapped up in work with the FBI, with Homeland Security. And while they’ve done work, for example, in creating a very well known K through 12 curriculum guide called A World of Difference-
Marc Steiner: Right.
Phyllis Bennis: Which deals with the issue of white supremacy in a number of ways. It doesn’t only deal with antisemitism, although it starts with and really focuses a great deal on antisemitism. They see no contradiction between on the one hand, publishing something like that curriculum and in many ways doing educational work against Islamophobia in general, while at the same time in the real world, calling for and supporting US government efforts at racial profiling, at surveillance of Muslims and Arabs supporting the worst kind of anti-Arab racism that has led among other things, for example, back in the mid 1980s in California, it was an ADL investigation of what they claimed were Palestinian extremists, Palestinian terrorists, et cetera.
They prepared a report, turned it over to the FBI. The FBI was glad to collaborate with them and the result was the what became known as the Los Angeles Eight case, the longest lasting deportation effort in US history.
Marc Steiner: You were involved-
Phyllis Bennis: Seven… I was. I was part of the legal team for that case. It went on for 21 years until we finally won in the Supreme Court and the case never involved any allegation against any of the eight, it was seven Palestinians and a Kenyan woman, all of whom had been involved in Palestine activism, mainly on campuses in a cultural group a dabke group passing out literature, raising money for clinics in the occupied territories or in refugee camps in Lebanon.
No one ever alleged that they were ever involved with or ever supported anything violent. There were the efforts to find that kind of evidence went on and on, including posting a LA Sheriff’s department officer who moved into an apartment next door to where two of them lived where his wall, which was then filled up with listening devices was against their bedroom walls. So even listening in on pillow talk among one of the married couple, among the eight, they never found any evidence there because there was none. There was no involvement with anything violent with anything extremist and eventually the case won. But that was after 21 years of people being unable to leave the country, unable to attend their parents’ funerals, unable as they graduated and had terrible difficulty getting work. All of these things, they paid an enormous price for that.
And it all started with an ADL report turned over to the FBI. So that kind of collaboration with the state has been a very consistent pattern and it’s what has given them the kind of credential that they have now. So when there’s episodes, for example, when Starbucks was facing new allegations of racism by its employees and the Starbucks company decided they were going to close all the Starbucks for a day and have all their employees go through some kind of anti-racism training, the ADL was among the first organizations they called on to help organize that. To their credit, the other people who were on the team that had been pulled together said, “Wait a minute, this is wrong. This is not the organization that should be doing that.” And they did not ultimately participate.
Marc Steiner: So.
Phyllis Bennis: Yeah, go ahead.
Marc Steiner: We talked about this just before we went on the air together here, that in the early 60s, mid 60s, the ADL marched with King. The ADL put out this book about King, though it didn’t put any political nuance about King’s life in this report they did on the King for kids, but they were part of that struggle. Was it the occupation, from 67 on, that changed all of this? I mean, what more, what changed this political dynamic here?
Phyllis Bennis: I think what changed for the ADL, I mean I wasn’t around at that time in a conscious way and I wasn’t a… I don’t have a fly on the wall of those meetings, but I think what changed was not so much the ’67 war and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories of the Syrian Golan Heights of the Egyptian Sinai, but the fact that opposition to Israel, recognition that Israel was indeed a settler colonial state, that’s what began to rise. And the result was that suddenly Israel was no longer the subject of adoration and support as a tough little outpost in this very tricky neighborhood. The kind of propaganda that had for so long accompanied US support for Israel, certainly among the US Jewish population, but far beyond that, it was very much an American popular idea. After ’67 that became much harder.
And so opposition to Israel began to rise. And not surprisingly, it began to rise in the earliest iterations among people who were already identifying with the anti-colonial struggles around the world, who were seeing African liberation movements as tied to the movement for black liberation in the United States where those connections were being drawn and suddenly Israel was not seen as part of the solution, but as part of the problem, so opposition to Israeli occupation began to rise. It wasn’t the occupation itself that bothered ADL, it was the fact that as a result of the occupation, people began to see Israel in a new light and the criticism of Israel among Jews, among the black community, in a whole range of US communities, began to rise. And it was then that we see a more explicit engagement. Now, it wasn’t the first time.
There are massive reports of ADLs involvement. For example, during the HUAC hearings, again putting itself on the side of the US government among those who would criticize-
Marc Steiner: During McCarthy’s hearings you’re talking about?
Phyllis Bennis: Exactly.
Marc Steiner: That’s a piece of history I don’t know about. Yeah.
Phyllis Bennis: Yeah. So you know, this is the history has gone on for a long time. There was a black list that was created by ADL in 1983 of critics of Israel and anti-semites, as they would define them, very much a parallel to the current work of organizations that are part of the pro Israel lobbies, such as the Canary Mission, which targets particularly academic students and faculty, identifies them as troublemakers because they mobilize for Palestinian rights on campus and the goal of it is to have this massive website that would be available to all future employers so that automatically anybody thinking of hiring any young student coming out of college would think, “Well, I better go check it out on the Canary Mission website and see if they’re a troublemaker or not.” So criticism of Israel becomes equated maybe with being an anti-Semite, but certainly being a troublemaker. And this kind of history goes right back to what the ideal has done for a very long time. So
Marc Steiner: So let’s talk a bit further, let’s close with this, there’s this piece here, so what’s the connection here? If there is a connection, ADL has become fairly vociferous in support of the Netanyahu government and kind of shifted to the right, I mean it was more of a liberal than neoliberal kind of group present, the shift is the right it seems, and this connection between this and the law enforcement training with the Israelis, the Israelis training the law enforcement here, I mean is there a link to all of this or are we making too much of a leap here?
Phyllis Bennis: No, I think there is very definitely a link. The training issue that you’re talking about is the target right now of a major campaign called the Deadly Exchange campaign that’s designed to challenge what has become a massively popular process among US local and statewide law enforcement agencies who are given money by the ADL to go on trips sponsored and arranged by the ADL to go to Israel for “training” by Israeli soldiers, the Israeli military, and the Israeli national police in things like, how to control crowds, how to deal with violent uprisings. And of course what you’re looking at is a military, the Israeli military, the IDF whose job it is to keep control of a militarily occupied population. That’s who these local police forces are asking to train their officers, soldiers whose job it is to suppress an occupied population.
So this is a very dangerous proposition that we see that ADL is responsible for. Jewish Voice for Peace has been leading the national campaign of Deadly Exchange in collaboration with groups like the Black Youth Project 100 in places like Durham, North Carolina, where the campaign had its first victory in a city council resolution that says that, “No, US police will be sent to any country with a record of human rights violations for any kind of training.” That’s the kind of position that every law enforcement agency in this country should have, but it’s emerging right now as a much bigger campaign because the capacity of the ideal to mobilize things, like that police training operation, is a much bigger component. They’re raising millions and millions, tens of millions of dollars every year, for these kinds of processes, these kinds of campaigns. And the result is that the work that they do, the work they have done historically to at least monitor one aspect of white supremacy, which is the nongovernmental side of white supremacy, has been taking a back seat. The focus is, as you say, Marc, much more on building support for Israel.
Marc Steiner: Well, Phyllis Bennis, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you and the clarity you bring to these situations and your analysis. I appreciate it so much. You’re work and being with us today, thank you so much.
Phyllis Bennis: Thank you, Marc. It’s been a pleasure.
Marc Steiner: Always good to talk to you. And I’m Mark Steiner here for the Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Please let us know what you think. Take care.