The Anti-Defamation League is celebrating its centennial birthday. Born at the beginning of the twentieth century in a Chicago law office, ADL has worked tirelessly to be true to the stated raison d’etre of its founders, “to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience, and if necessary by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people… and to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.”
Even in 1913, the founders realized that the fight against one form of prejudice could not succeed without battling prejudice in all forms. This impressive group of community leaders recognized that “prejudice is the child of ignorance. It knows no bounds, respects no individual, and violates the most sacred tenets of our democracy.” In an effort to counteract the scourge of bigotry that permeated so many facets of American life, the Anti-Defamation League came into being.
Now, a century later, we look back and we look forward. One hundred years ago, the founding patrons of ADL audaciously imagined that we could “put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination.” No less bold is the theme of the Centennial celebration: to “Imagine a World Without Hate™.”
ADL has accomplished much. In its early years, it worked to counteract racist and anti-Semitic policies in education by fighting to eliminate quotas at universities. In the 1960s, ADL mobilized support for civil rights and voting rights legislation, and worked tirelessly for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. It was among the first to raise alarms about neo-Nazism in the United States.
In addition, ADL has spoken out against persecution of Japanese Americans, worked for equal protections and rights for LGBTQ individuals, and criticized anti-Islamic fervor in the United States.
No community is beyond the reach of ADL. It has worked to promote interfaith relations, while at the same time warning against programs that violate the separation of church and state. Since 1948, it has fought to promote better relations between Arabs and Jews, while remaining steadfast in its support of Israel and its right to defend itself. ADL instituted the first independent fact-finding on extremists thereby creating a wealth of credible information uncovering hate groups in the U.S., and made its findings available to the government and the press. As a result, the FBI and the media consistently turn to ADL for its expertise. In fact, ADL is currently the largest private provider of training for law enforcement on extremism and terrorist threats.
ADL has also filed numerous amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court including one in Shelley v. Kraemer, in which the Court supported ADL’s view that restrictive housing covenants were unconstitutional and unenforceable and one in Brown v. Board of Education, promoting desegregation of schools. ADL crafted anti-mask laws, which banned the wearing of masks during public demonstrations and produced a dramatic decrease in the membership of the Ku Klux Klan.
More recently, ADL launched the A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE™ Institute for anti-bias training, the Confronting Anti-Semitism program to help communities respond to incidents of hate and the No Place for Hate® initiative to counteract bullying and promote understanding and diversity in schools. This May, ADL will host its third annual WALK Against Hate. This event truly embodies the founding mission of ADL by celebrating diversity and promoting community awareness about hate.
Many challenges remain in an ever changing and increasingly diverse world. The Internet offers great opportunity to expand awareness and education, but, it also is a vehicle for spreading vile images of minorities and disseminating attitudes of intolerance to the point of inciting violence. While anti-Semitism has decreased in the United States it grows stronger in many other countries. Bullying and cyberbullying are growing problems in schools and affect many students every day. There is yet to exist comprehensive and reasonable immigration reform, and immigrants are often used as scapegoats for American problems. There is certainly work to be done, and ADL enters the next century with experience and renewed passion.
In 1882, in his seminal work, Auto-Emancipation, Leon Pinsker wrote that “prejudice or instinctive ill-will is not moved by rational argument, however forceful and clear.” While we may agree that it is unlikely that hatred will be eradicated from this earth, ADL remains both a watchdog against bigotry and an advocate of human rights and civil liberties.
Through all of its activities and programs, in the United States and throughout the world, ADL will continue to “Imagine a World Without Hate™.”
Barry Morrison is Regional Director for the Eastern Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey/Delaware Anti-Defamation League, Philadelphia