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The cowardice of Jonathan Greenblatt
On the ADL's influential CEO, and the intentional confusion regarding who really has power.
There have been few things quite as galling in the past month as Jonathan Greenblatt and the Anti-Defamation League’s strategic decision to put college students in the crosshairs of their institutional power instead of the wealthy and influential adults who can actually throw their thumbs on the scales. Like, for example, Elon Musk.
Greenblatt has taken on main character status throughout the early days of the war in Israel and Palestine, but in the most cynical way possible. Instead of helping bereft Jews heal and move forward, Greenblatt’s ADL has decided to draw battle lines: Either you’re with Israel, or you’re an antisemite who deserves punishment. He’s decided that instead of holding people in power accountable—say, a billionaire who owns an influential social network and posts/shares harmful white supremacist and antisemitic ideas—he’s going to focus on young adults who are figuring out who they are in the midst of violence and chaos.
Jewish leadership is more important than ever as Israel continues to mourn the Hamas massacre of 1,200 people and kidnapping of around 200 more, and as the IDF continues to decimate the Gaza Strip, with 12,000 Palestinians killed so far. American Jews are searching for meaning as we try to sort out our endless sea of feelings. But instead of showing moral leadership, the ADL has stepped forward and anointed themselves the voice of our people and the arbiter of what is and is not antisemitic during a fragile time for Jews around the globe.
A brief recap of events:
One user tweeted Wednesday, “To the cowards hiding behind the anonymity of the internet and posting ‘Hitler was right’: You got something you want to say? Why don't you say it to our faces…”
Then another replied, “Okay. Jewish communities have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them. I'm deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest shit now about western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that support flooding their country don't exactly like them too much. You want truth said to your face, there it is.”
Musk then replied, for all his 163 million followers to see, “You have said the actual truth.”
This is the “truth” to which Musk refers, per CNN.com, “The antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews want to bring undocumented minority populations into Western countries to reduce White majorities in those nations has been espoused by online hate groups and echoed by Robert Bowers, the convicted killer of 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. It was the deadliest attack against Jews in American history.”
Musk then also (completely unprompted) specifically went after the ADL. “The ADL unjustly attacks the majority of the West, despite the majority of the West supporting the Jewish people and Israel,” he tweeted after yet another backlash against the antisemite had begun. “This is because they cannot, by their own tenets, criticize the minority groups who are their primary threat. It is not right and needs to stop.”
It is absolutely unambiguous how Musk feels about Jews, and yet—and yet!—the best Greenblatt could muster was a tweet with a screenshot of Musk’s original reply that said, “At a time when antisemitism is exploding in America and surging around the world, it is indisputably dangerous to use one's influence to validate and promote antisemitic theories. #NeverIsNow”
That very same day, Greenblatt was testifying in front of the House Ways and Means Committee about the threat of antisemitism on college campuses, during which he held individual university presidents personally accountable for the rise in Jew hatred, and not a man who can literally change the course of global conversation with just an emoji.
Musk then also tweeted Wednesday, “Yes, ‘decolonization’ necessarily implies a Jewish genocide, thus it is unacceptable to any reasonable person.” And he knew exactly what he was doing on Friday when he re-upped the sentiment, adding, “As I said earlier this week, ‘decolonization’, “from the river to the sea” and similar euphemisms necessarily imply genocide. Clear calls for extreme violence are against our terms of service and will result in suspension.”
That was all Greenblatt needed to hear to forgive the mortal sins of less than two days ago: as long as Musk was serving up his antisemitism with a side of Palestinian persecution, he was willing to move on. “This is an important and welcome move by @elonmusk,” he tweeted Friday in response. “I appreciate this leadership in fighting hate.”
And it’s not just the ADL that’s afraid to call out Musk for what he really is. A New York Times article Friday about all the major advertisers pausing advertising on Twitter because of Musk’s blatant antisemitism starts off, “The blowback over Elon Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory on X gathered steam on Friday, as several major advertisers on his social media platform cut off their spending after his comments.”
Do you know what we call a person who endorses an antisemitic conspiracy theory? A FUCKING ANTISEMITE.
Imagine, for example, your neighbor yelled out the window, “Jews will not replace us!” and your mailman replied, “You have said the actual truth!” You would think to yourself, “My mailman is an antisemite.” Why are we holding the richest—and arguably most powerful—man in the world to a lower standard than your mailman?
The inability to call things what they really are is how Greenblatt and the like are able to maintain plausible deniability when it comes to their associations with Musk. Even after he led a global hate campaign against the ADL back in September and tried to blame the explicitly Jewish organization for all his company’s financial woes, Greenblatt refused to say Twitter and Musk were antisemitic.
“ADL has not called Elon Musk an antisemite,” he said on September 7th. “ADL has not called Twitter an antisemitic platform. ADL is not actively pressuring companies to not participate on Twitter. In fact, up until last week, ADL was advertising on Twitter. So the notion that we were trying to ‘kill the company,’ that’s a fiction.” Less than a month later, the organization announced it would resume advertising.
And the truth is that Greenblatt will never cross Musk because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes Musk, and Greenblatt and his organization are beholden to Netanyahu and the Israeli and American Jewish right wing. If you’ll recall, mere days after Greenblatt announced the ADL’s pause in advertising, Netanyahu flew to San Francisco to meet with Musk and have a live-streamed discussion under the auspices of artificial intelligence. But obviously they had to address the elephant in the room.
“I know your commitment to free speech. I respect that, because I think it’s an integral part — it’s the foundational thing of democracies, really,” he said to Musk during the meeting. “But I also know your opposition to antisemitism. You’ve spoken about it, tweeted about it, and all I can say is that I hope you can find within the confines of the First Amendment the ability to stop not only antisemitism, or roll it back as best you can, but any collective hatred of the people that antisemitism represents, and I know you’re committed to that.”
But how on Earth can you stop antisemitism when the call is coming from inside the house? The answer is, obviously, you cannot. And it’s why Greenblatt has cowered at every opportunity to take a stand against Musk.
The other scary truth is that Musk’s pernicious belief in white power extends far beyond the confines of a social network. Kelsey Atherton, Chief Editor at the Center for International Policy, wrote in a piece for MSNBC.com on Saturday about the dangers of the US government’s financial entanglements with Musk’s company SpaceX.
“Waiting for the market to diminish dependence on Musk—especially while he owns both communication constellations and launch companies—might not even work in the long term, and it doesn’t change the immediate fact that the Department of Defense is locked into a contract with an outspoken antisemite who has often worked at odds with U.S. security priorities,” Atherton wrote.
Looking at Musk’s earthly and galactic influence, it makes Greenblatt’s college campus crusade look even more insipid. A student at Columbia chanting “Free Palestine” does not have the power to wipe Jews off the map; A virulent antisemite controlling spacecraft and satellites across 60 countries absolutely does. Expelling that student and ruining their future career prospects won’t slow the spread of global antisemitism; advertisers and governments refusing to fund Elon Musk’s ventures just might.
And Students for Justice in Palestine do not carry the same heft as the number of Evangelical Christian Congressional Republicans, many of whom vehemently support Jews in Israel because they literally believe we’re living in the end times.
“And many evangelicals see Israel as a key setting for those events,” a recent New York Times story said. “Four out of five American evangelicals say that the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 and the return there of millions of Jewish people were fulfillments of biblical prophecy, according to a survey conducted in 2017. Almost half of respondents said the Bible is the primary influence of their opinions on Israel.”
There’s no denying that there’s been an increase in antisemitism across the world, and yes, on college campuses. But the perception of it being the most pressing issue of the moment comes from the top. Greenblatt has a vested interest in drawing focus away from the real structures of power that allow the IDF to continue decimating Gaza with bombs, that allow the Israeli hostages to remain stolen from their families for 43 days and counting, and convince regular people that we’re powerless in an existential conflict between good and evil. The Israeli government, too, benefits from this misdirection.
On Saturday, Musk re-shared a video from Ben Shapiro, the influential conservative reactionary and observant Jew, defending Musk against those who’ve accurately called him antisemitic. And the tweet of the video included commentary from a Musk sycophant that gave the game away: “This feels like a breakthrough day…Where each of @elonmusk, @JGreenblattADL and @benshapiro are starting to understand each other’s views better. All valid, but sometimes delivered in a way where they’re misunderstood.”
And that is why Greenblatt refuses to go after Musk: because they have far more similarities than they do differences. Their intolerance for progressives so tightly binds them, that even the most overt antisemitism will never tear them apart.
“To those who still cling to the idea that anti-zionism is not antisemitism–let me clarify this for you as clearly as I can–antizionism is antisemitism,” Greenblatt said in May 2022 remarks. “I will repeat: anti-zionism is antisemitism.”
And it’s this worldview that explains so much of the current understanding of American college campuses as the cause of the scourge of antisemitism, and not a symptom of the global pandemic that it is.
As long as Greenblatt continues pushing this conflation, and in light of his total capitulation to the antisemite Elon Musk, he is setting himself up to someday be judged as one of the greatest fools of this era. And one of its greatest cowards.
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