Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was established to fight the hate and defamation aimed at Jewish people. To accomplish its goals, the ADL has engaged in surveillance and documentation of hate crimes against Jewish people and their communities worldwide and has worked to inform and aid government initiatives to fight anti-Semitism and hate crime in general. Recently, the ADL has expanded its focus from anti-Semitism to identifying and reporting all crimes of hate and civil injustice. The ADL has been an influential organization affecting legislation, law enforcement, media, and communities. This entry investigates the history of the ADL’s attempts to monitor, report, and ultimately eradicate anti-Semitism. These efforts included surveillance of media, cultural trends, and government activities and providing input that helped shape current hate crime laws. Those efforts have since expanded to include fights against extremism and other hate crimes.

Surveillance of Media and Cultural Trends

Anti-Semitism, hate toward Jewish people, has been a social problem for about 2,000 years. It has included the oppression of Jewish people religiously, politically, socially, psychologically, sexually, economically, and racially. This oppression has resulted in discrimination, expulsion, and even genocide. The ADL was founded by Chicago lawyer Sigmond Livingston in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism. Following the wrongful conviction of Leo Frank, a Jewish man from Chicago, Livingston established the ADL in his Chicago office with $200, two desks, and the sponsorship of the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith. Anti-Semitism of the day was increasing and eventually resulted in the mob lynching of Frank in 1915. In his efforts, Livingston, according to ADL’s website, aimed “to secure justice and fair treatment to all people alike.”

The ADL initially focused much of its efforts on the negative images and stereotypes of Jewish people in the news media, in movies, and on stage. In the 1920s, the ADL fought ads that were discriminatory in employment, housing, and higher education. In the 1940s, the ADL worked toward fighting the Ku Klux Klan’s Black terror campaign via the media. In 1961, to examine anti-Semitism in the United States through a social science perspective, the ADL funded a 5-year study conducted at the Survey Research Center of the University of California at Berkeley. This project resulted in the development of the Research Program on Patterns of American Prejudice. Research conducted by the faculty resulted in several published works including The New Religious Conscious (1976) by Charles Y. Glock and Robert N. Bellah and Anti-Semitism in America (1983) by Harold E. Quinley and Charles Y. Glock. Among the findings of the ADL-funded research was that the most religious people tended to be the most intolerant of Judaism. They also found that one third of all Americans were anti-Semitic; however, very few supported discrimination against Jewish people.

Surveillance of Government Activities

As a result of government efforts in the 1920s to limit Jewish immigration, the ADL began to fight discrimination against all groups in order to accomplish equality for Jewish people. In the wake of the “final solution,” otherwise known as the Holocaust, the ADL moved toward lobbying for civil rights laws. In 1947, the ADL submitted its first amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in Shelley v. Kraemer. This amicus curiae questioned the constitutionality of restrictive housing covenants, which worked to exclude certain groups of people (e.g., race, religion, nationality) from buying houses in particular neighborhoods. The Supreme Court determined that such covenants are unenforceable.

In the 1950s, the ADL resumed its fight to stop the government’s immigration quota system with a campaign known as “Crack the Quota.” The ADL also submitted an amicus curiae brief in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that helped end racial segregation in schools. Continuing the fight against oppression, the ADL helped defuse conflict resulting from desegregation. The ADL engaged in a large-scale campaign to educate the public about tolerance by publishing books, posters, and other educational tools. In the 1960s, the ADL aided the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the 1980s, the ADL ran a campaign that focused on Jews trapped in the then U.S.S.R., urging the nation to recognize civil rights for Jews and to allow them to emigrate.

In 1981, the ADL made a dramatic impact in the United States when it drafted a model ethnic intimidation statute. The model defined bias intimidation, institutional vandalism, and penalty enhancers for crimes motivated by hate. The ADL ushered the United States into an era in which hate crime became a recognized phenomenon. The ADL also stressed the need for law enforcement personnel training and government data collection. As of 2015, 45 states and the District of Columbia have some form of hate crime law. Many of these laws are similar to the ADL’s model law. The ADL’s model law also encouraged the federal government to pass the Hate Crime Statistics Act in 1990. In the 1990s, the ADL monitored militant antigovernment extremist groups within the United States. A report released by the ADL warned of this growing problem 6 months before the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1995.

Monitoring Anti-Semitism, Extremism, and Hate Crimes

In the 1920s, the ADL began to focus on fighting the Ku Klux Klan’s attacks on Jewish people. Livingston also focused the ADL’s efforts on fighting Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic propaganda. In the 1930s, the ADL fought a rise in anti-Semitism resulting from the rise of Nazism in Germany. During this decade, the ADL increased its staff and began to monitor the behaviors of extremist individuals and organizations in the United States. In the 1960s, when anti-Catholic sentiments rose with the election of President John F. Kennedy, the ADL also rose to fight this hate. Following the Six Day War, also known as the Third Arab-Israeli War, in June 1967, the ADL launched a series of radio broadcasts, known as “Dateline Israel,” that helped Americans better understand Israel and its people. In the 1970s, the ADL focused on international acts of anti-Semitism, in part by opening offices in Israel and Europe and publishing The New Anti-Semitism. Expanding its efforts to educate the public, the ADL established the Center for Holocaust Studies in 1977, later known as the Braun Holocaust Institute-Glick Center for Holocaust Studies.

Since 1979, the ADL has published the annual ADL Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents. This annual report documents acts of anti-Semitism in the United States. However, this documentation includes incidents that are reported to the ADL regardless of their criminal or noncriminal nature. Furthermore, the report does not include those incidents that have occurred but have not been reported. Research shows that crime reporting can be problematic for police as well as for advocacy groups. One must also take into account that these data are not scientific.

The ADL continues to educate the public on anti-Semitism and intolerance. In 1985, the ADL launched a program called A World of Difference in which it provided tolerance training to educational institutions, corporations, and law enforcement. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the ADL’s World of Difference Institute produced a widely distributed guide titled Empowering Children in the Aftermath of Hate. Worldwide, the World of Difference Institute has affected 56 million people. In recent years, the ADL has educated schools on fighting bullying, especially cyberbullying. The ADL has also joined the fight to recognize the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. As of 2015, the ADL has 28 regional offices and continues its aggressive surveillance of hate crimes in the United States and internationally.

Venessa Garcia

See also Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ; Civil Rights Movement ; Cyberbullying ; Domestic Terrorist Groups ; Hate Crimes ; Israel ; Nazism ; 9/11 ; Religion

Further Readings

Anti-Defamation League. (2013). “History of the Anti-Defamation League.””Kq0Mrd0xdh (Accessed January 2015).

Brief of American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith Amici Curiae, Engel v. Vitale (370 U.S. 421 (1962)). (Accessed December 2015).

Brief on Behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union American Ethical Union, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith,Japanese American Citizens League and Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice as Amici Curiae, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. (Accessed October 2017).

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

Gerstenfeld, Phyllis B.Hate Crime: Cause, Controls, and Controversies (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013.

Glock, Charles Y. and Robert N. Bellah, eds. The New Religious Conscious. Oakland: University of California Press, 1976.

Quinley, Harold E. and Charles Y. Glock. Anti-Semitism in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1983.

Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948).


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