Also see Anti-Defamation League Foundation (Non-profit)
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was created as a civil rights advocacy group in 1913. Its historical primary focus has been fighting anti-Semitism.
Since 2015, under the leadership of liberal former Obama administration staffer Jonathan Greenblatt, the organization has been sharply criticized for acting more as a left-leaning pressure group than a non-partisan anti-Semitism watchdog. Bethany Mandel, a right-leaning Jewish columnist, noted that the ADL under Greenblatt removed the words “anti-Semitism” from its mission statement.
In this vein, the ADL has faced criticisms that it applies a double standard in its analysis of anti-Semitism, by focusing its efforts against political conservatives. It has also been criticized for aligning with left-leaning groups such as the Black Lives Matter movement, whose membership has espoused anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric.
The ADL has taken a number of partisan political positions that conservatives argue misuse the organization’s nonpartisan watchdog history and inappropriately place the organization at odds with politically conservative American Jews. For instance the ADL has taken a number of notably left-leaning positions on Israel related issues, often siding with the left-leaning J Street organization.
Additionally, the organization has been a “a frequent and vociferous critic of Donald Trump,” taking shots at multiple administration figures. The ADL pushed for the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, an issue with no obvious relevance to anti-Semitism, in spite of the Orthodox Jewish community’s worries that the policy would encroach on religious freedom. Similarly the organization has taken partisan political positions in support of expansive immigration and refugee policies, laws that seek to keep criminals out of jail, and other policies to address what ADL’s liberal leadership perceives to be racial inequities in education.
The Anti-Defamation League retains another 501(c)(3) affiliate, the Anti-Defamation League Foundation.
Sigmund Livingston created the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in 1913 with a $200 sponsorship from the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith. Livingston created the organization in response to pervasive anti-Semitism in American culture at the time.
ADL’s charge, according to Livingston, was “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.”
Under the leadership of longtime ADL president Abraham Foxman, “the League was focused primarily on fighting anti-Semitism.”
ADL is credited with coining the phrase “a nation of immigrants” in its forward to then-Sen. John F. Kennedy’s 1958 book A Nation of Immigrants, which he wrote after ADL reportedly urged him to the task. In the forward, ADL proposed left-wing immigration reform policies.  In 1963, during ADL’s 50th anniversary, then-President Kennedy received ADL’s “America’s Democratic Legacy” award to commemorate his immigration stance; and at the ceremony the President’s speech reiterated the phrase “We Are a Nation of Immigrants.”
Leftward Mission Shift
In 2016, Alex VanNess, writing for the New York Post, noted that under longtime chief Abe Foxman, the ADL largely remained true to its historical priority of combatting anti-Semitism. However, VanNess noted that under its new president, Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL had moved “onto a partisan course at odds with this core mission.”
Similarly, the New York Post editorial board wrote, “The Anti-Defamation League, a century-old Jewish civil-rights organization, has essentially become another J Street — an arm of the Democratic Party’s stable of pressure groups.”
Echoing this criticism, in 2016, Isi Leibler, the former vice president and board of trustees chairman of the World Jewish Congress, chastised Greenblatt for “tilting the ADL policy away from its primary mandate of combating anti-Semitism and steering it toward partisan social action issues.” Leibler wrote, “the ADL board has knowingly empowered” Greenblatt, whose “outlook is not only liberal but effectively represents an echo chamber of left-wing Democratic politics” and that Greenblatt had taken a number of partisan liberal political and policy positions similar to that of the liberal organization J Street.
In January 2017 World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder criticized the ADL for “play[ing] politics” with President Donald Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement. According to Lauder, “manufactured outrage” implicitly typified by the ADL’s response to Trump’s statement reduces “public sensitivity to the real dangers of anti-Semitism” that confront the Jewish community.
Anti-Semitism Double Standard
In recent years the ADL has been sharply accused of focusing the majority of its attention to anti-Semitism from right-wing extremists while largely ignoring or downplaying anti-Semitism from left-wing sources.
In 2017, the ADL issued a report detailing 36 individuals known for their anti-Semitic or hate-based positions. The report focused exclusively on right-wing extremists while completely ignoring any left-leaning anti-Semitic individuals. Liel Liebovitz called attention to this “double standard”  in an article for the Jewish publication Tablet, concluding that “as Jews face real hate from left and right alike, we need and deserve an organization that places principles over politics.”
Similarly, Ran Baratz, former media advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote that the ADL under Greenblatt adopted a “sober and appropriately harsh description” of right-wing anti-Semitism but conversely was astoundingly apologetic when addressing left-wing anti-Semitism.
Under Greenblatt, the ADL has aligned the fight against anti-Semitism with other left-wing “civil rights” movements such as the push for expanded immigration and the expansion of LGBT rights. But many of the current civil rights activists in those movements give precedence to Palestinian solidarity “over the old solidarity with American Jews.”
The New York Post’s Alex VanNess noted that the “ADL has also promoted the Black Lives Matter movement […] despite BLM’s support for [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel] and open hostility toward Israel.” In fact, VanNess noted that “Greenblatt [had] accused American Jews of living with ‘white privilege.’”
Baratz noted that “Black Lives Matter has spoken in rabid anti-Jewish and anti Israel terms” and yet the ADL has refused to condemn the movement. NPR noted that ADL’s CEO Greenblatt said that he sees the Black Lives Matter activism as “deep and real,” despite the fact that on multiple occasions “Activists from the Black Lives Matter movement, […] bitterly attacked the ADL over its connection with Israel.”
Liberal Issue Positions
The ADL has been criticized for its alignment with Democratic Party policy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Greenblatt criticized the Republican Party’s 2016 platform for not including an endorsement of a two-state Israel-Palestinian solution. On this issue, former World Jewish Congress official Isi Leibler criticized Greenblatt for going “totally beyond the ADL’s [nonpartisan] mandate” and “breach[ing] all conventions” by involving the organization “in such partisan political issues.”
In 2016, Greenblatt became the first ADL president to give a speech to the liberal group J Street. Leibler again blasted Greenblatt’s speech for taking a number of left-leaning partisan positions unrelated to the organization’s overall mission of fighting anti-Semitism. According to Leibler, during the speech Greenblatt:
“effectively endorsed moral equivalence between Israelis and Palestinians, complained of our failure to recognize the legitimacy of the Palestinian narrative, questioned Israel’s democratic structure, engaged in partisan electoral politics and condemned the Republican platform as “anti-Zionist for omitting a two-state structure, and insisted that boycott, diversion and sanctions (BDS) groups – which he admittedly condemns – are “animated by a desire for justice.”
After Greenblatt wrote an article arguing that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “chose to raise an inappropriate straw man regarding Palestinian policy toward Israeli settlements.” Leibler argued that whether or not American Jews agree or disagree with Netanyahu, “for the head of the ADL, a major mainstream Jewish organization, to condemn Netanyahu […] was unprecedented and totally unacceptable.”
The New York Post’s Alex VanNess wrote, “The ADL has downplayed the anti-Semitic nature of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement — the ultimate goal of which, its founder has openly admitted, is the destruction of Israel.” In 2017, the ADL came out against an Israeli law that bans entry to Israel by foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements as part of the BDS movement.
In December 2016, Politico described the ADL as “a frequent and vociferous critic of President-elect Donald Trump and members of his incoming administration” and noted that the organization faced criticisms it had “drifted too far to the left” in its opposition to Trump.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the ADL frequently criticized then-candidate Trump consistently requesting that he “distance himself from white supremacists” and “lambasting his call for a ban on Muslim immigration.” Trump responded by calling the group’s charges of anti-Semitism during the campaign “ridiculous” and “completely false.”
Trump campaign advisor (later United States Ambassador to Israel) David Friedman went a step further and accused the ADL of fabricating anti-Semitism claims “on the eve of the election […] to scare Jewish people into voting for Hillary Clinton” and “advance liberal policies.”
After Trump’s election, the ADL continued to vociferously oppose his policy decisions. The organization was “‘at the forefront of opposing Trump’s refugee policy,’ launching public education campaigns and advocacy efforts against it.”
Additionally, the organization has sought to pin an uptick in the occurrences of anti-Semitism on President Trump. In November 2016, approximately two weeks after Trump was elected President, the ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that the amount of anti-Semitism in mainstream America was at levels not seen “since the 1930s.” Then in April 2017, the ADL issued a report that linked the election of Donald Trump to a resurgence in anti-Semitism.
Conservative author Jonathan Tobin wrote in National Review that in their rush to attack President Trump for causing an uptick in anti-Semitism, the ADL and its allies had turned anti-Semitism from a cause that unites both parties and their leaders into “a political football” in “a dangerous game that has now blown up in their faces.” The ADL had attempted to tie Trump’s election to a series of bomb threats against Jewish institutions; the perpetrators of almost all the hoax threats were identified as an Israeli teenager and a disgraced left-wing journalist seeking to get revenge on his ex-girlfriend.
In November 2017, as U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) was being vetted for Democratic National Committee vice-chair, the ADL tweeted that Ellison was “a man of good character” even though he had previously made a series of anti-Semitic remarks. Only after additional tapes of Ellison speeches came to light did the ADL change its view, calling the remarks “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”
In light of the ADL’s stern condemnation of President Trump and his associates, the ADL was criticized for failing to apply the same vetting standards against Ellison as it had against Trump’s team. According to a Politico report, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency argued that the ADL “was much more measured in its assessment of Ellison than it was of [former Trump advisor Steven] Bannon.” 
Under Greenblatt, the ADL has pushed a number of left-leaning positions many of which have no obvious relation to anti-Semitism.
In 2015, the ADL was “disappointed” by delays in implementing the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate; in 2016, the organization filed a legal brief in support of the contraception mandate. A New York Post commentator characterized the action as “taking sides on a highly partisan issue with no clear connection to bigotry of any kind, but also disregarding concerns over religious freedoms raised by members of the Orthodox Jewish community.”
ADL argues that gender issues are “essential” to the organization’s work, and the organization fights for gender-based labor handouts, and for unfettered abortion. In 2017, The ADL criticized a U.S. House bill that sought to ban abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation and criticized President Trump’s reinstatement of a rule that bars “U.S. foreign aid from going to any NGO that provides abortion services.”
ADL “fights tirelessly” for liberal immigration reforms and in support of expansive refugee acceptance policies. The organization denounced President Trump’s proposal to defund sanctuary cities and supported granting legal status to a large number of illegal immigrants.
The ADL also supports policies that seek to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated for committing crimes by letting criminals avoid prosecution and limiting mandatory minimum sentences.
In 2015, the independent organization Charity Navigator gave the ADL one out of four stars for its financial performance.
In 2016, the ADL raised $66 million and spent $58.4 million. It ended the year with a $16 million fund net asset value deficit.
Like most politically engaged non-profits, the ADL does not publicly disclose the identity its donors. However, in 2016, the organization disclosed that it received a $17.2 million contribution and a $1.3 million contribution from unnamed individuals.
In 2017, the organization acknowledged that it had received a number of contributions from major corporations such as J.P. Morgan, Apple, Uber and MGM Resorts in addition to a $1 million contribution from the CEO of 21st Century Fox, James Murdoch.
Identified foundation contributors to ADL come from a variety of backgrounds; many specialize in Jewish religious and civic interests. Notable foundation funders have included the left-wing Ford Foundation and the Adelson Family Foundation of conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
From 1987 through July 2015 Abraham “Abe” Foxman served as CEO of the ADL. Foxman started at the ADL in 1965. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency described Foxman as “the leading global arbiter for what constitutes anti-Semitism,” and a “a staunch advocate for Israel.”
In 2015, Jonathan Greenblatt took over as ADL’s CEO. In 1992, Greenblatt worked at then-Governor Bill Clinton’s Arkansas campaign headquarters. He then worked as an aide in the Clinton White House.
Greenblatt then served as Director of the Impact Economy Initiative project at the Aspen Institute, which received more $500,000 from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (previously Open Society Institute.)
In 2008, Greenblatt served on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition team and then worked for President Barack Obama’s administration as director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Domestic Policy Council.