“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
A century ago, the Anti-Defamation League began with a simple but noble mission: “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” It remains the nation’s most prominent Jewish civil rights group, fighting discrimination, racism, and anti-Semitism.
The ADL was founded in Chicago in 1913 by a group of prominent Jewish leaders who wanted to stop the mistreatment of American Jews at a time when it was shamefully commonplace. Its just cause has grown to encompass fights against prejudice in all its forms. Just last week, for instance, the ADL cheered the Supreme Court’s landmark rulings on same-sex marriage.
As the organization celebrates its centennial with a series of events around the country — including a symposium scheduled for today at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center — extremism and hatred remain common enough to keep the ADL all too relevant. Americans of all backgrounds have turned to the group to stand up for tolerance and condemn bigotry.
The organization denounced anti-Muslim prejudice in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. It has championed tougher laws to protect those targeted for their sexual orientation. Locally, the ADL joined a campaign to get a Philadelphia sandwich shop whose name contained a racial epithet to rebrand itself.
“We’re an important sounding board,” said Barry Morrison, the ADL’s regional director for eastern Pennsylvania. “We help to temper conversations.”
The history of the ADL is intertwined with the city’s. The group opened its first office here in 1955, and five Philadelphia men were among its founders.
Reports of anti-Semitic incidents have continued to decline in the United States, but there were still more than 1,000 in 2011, according to the ADL’s latest annual report. Pennsylvania recorded 38 such incidents and New Jersey 144, ranging from synagogues and schools defaced with swastikas to assaults and threats against Jews.
The numbers show that intolerance persists even in an increasingly pluralistic age. As long as it does, we will need organizations like the ADL to, as its anniversary campaign challenges us, “imagine a world without hate.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer