Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Other Side of the Coin: The Changing Role of B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Other Side of the Coin: The Changing Role of B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League

Article excerpt

The Other Side of the Coin: The Changing Role of B'nai B'rith's Anti- Defamation League

Following an April raid on the offices of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) by the San Francisco police, the San Francisco Chronicle broke the story of a nationwide political spy operation. ADL had illegally obtained information from a corrupt police officer, Tom Gerard (who fled initially to the Philippines, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S., but later concluded his life was in danger if he stayed overseas), and Roy Bullock, a political informant and infiltrator on the ADL payroll since 1960. In the ADL offices were files on Arab Americans and members of Greenpeace, NAACP, the Mills College faculty and various other institutions, groups and individuals.

B'nai B'rith, ADL's parent organization, was founded in 1843 as a Jewish counterpart of fraternal orders then flourishing in America. The new group's purpose, as described in its constitution, called for the traditional functions performed by Jewish societies in Europe: "Visiting and attending the sick" and "protecting and assisting the widow and the orphan." Its founders had hoped that it soon would encompass all Jews in the United States. This did not happen, however, since other Jewish organizations also were forming around the same time.

In 1913 Leo Frank, a northern Jewish executive of a factory in Atlanta, Georgia, was arrested and charged with the murder of a young girl working in the factory. In an atmosphere of mob fury, he was declared guilty, even though the evidence was inconclusive. He was kidnapped from state prison and lynched. This obvious miscarriage of justice and manifestation of prejudice led to the formation by B'nai B'rith of the ADL as the first group organized explicitly to fight anti-Semitism. What exactly constituted anti-Semitism was to receive continually different interpretations. With the creation of Israel in 1948, the meaning of that word was broadened and, eventually, totally distorted.

Because it dealt with a subject of increasing importance to Jews everywhere, and one about which emotions could be aroused easily, the ADL soon emerged as the most powerful Jewish organization in the U.S., even outshining its B'nai B'rith parent organization and the aristocratic, well-financed American Jewish Committee.

Benjamin Epstein and Arnold Forster, ADL's two most important executives over a 35-year period, wrote a number of widely distributed books, which often received front-page notice even before they were published. These included The Trouble Makers (Doubleday, 1952); Cross Currents (Doubleday, 1956); Some of My Best Friends (Farrar Strauss, 1962); A Danger on the Right (Random House, 1964); Report on the John Birch Society (Random House, 1966); and The Radical Right (Random House, 1967).

ADL can exert enormous influence and intimidation.

The direction which the organization was to take was made clear in the initial book, which described a "secret meeting" between Azzam Pasha, then secretary-general of the Arab League, and members of a new organization, the Holy Land Emergency Program (HELP), organized to assist the newly created Palestinian refugees. The book charged that a conspiracy was hatched at the meeting to spread anti-Jewish propaganda. In fact, no such meeting ever took place. At the time of the alleged meeting, HELP already had ceased to exist.

At the very outset of the Palestine question, the Anti-Defamation League's publication, The Facts, sought to place an anti-Semitic label on the activities of such friends of justice for the dispossessed in Palestine as Barnard College Dean Virginia Gildersleeve, U.S. presidential emissary Kermit Roosevelt, and former American University of Beirut President Bayard Dodge.(1) The publication's May 1948 issue charged: "Their espousal of the Arab League cause and opposition to Zionism has been marked by the increasingly hostile attitude toward the Jewish people themselves. …

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