Anti-Defamation League

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Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is an agency of B'nai B'rith, an international Jewish service organization. The ADL combats anti-Semitism, religious and racial intolerance, and all forms of organized discrimination based on stereotypical beliefs. The ADL also is a strong advocate of the state of Israel, Lobbying Congress in support of legislation that benefits the Jewish State. It has its headquarters in New York City and has regional and satellite offices throughout the United States. The ADL also has offices in Jerusalem and Vienna.

Sigmound Livingston founded the ADL in 1913 with the support of B'nai B'rith. Livingston, a Chicago attorney, stated that the mission of the league was "to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience, and if necessary, by appeals to law, the Defamation of the Jewish people … to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike … [and] put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens."

The ADL first gained recognition by taking steps to eradicate negative stereotypes of Jews in print and their stereotyping on stage and in film. By the early 1920s, objectionable references to Jews in the national press had virtually disappeared. However, popular culture was filled with negative stereotypes of Jews. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s was based as much on anti-Semitism as racial intolerance. The ADL responded by circulating pamphlets that challenged hatred of Jews and demanded apologies from prominent citizens, such as automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, for endorsing anti-Semitic views.

With the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, the ADL fought U.S. supporters of Hitler who endorsed his anti-Semitic policies. During this decade, the ADL began to collect information on extremist individuals and organizations and to monitor and investigate fascist groups in the United States. These fact-finding and monitoring activities have remained a central part of the ADL's work.

Since the 1940s, the ADL has lobbied for Civil Rights legislation, filed briefs in courts supporting the separation of church and state, and educated succeeding generations in religious tolerance. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, the ADL has also defended Israel's right to exist and has fought against anti-Zionism. In the 1990s, the organization began monitoring the Internet for evidence of anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism. In 2000 the ADL issued a report titled "Combating Extremism in Cyber-space", a review of legal issues raised by hate groups using the Internet. The ADL's monitoring of the Internet and other forms of communication took on new urgency in light of the events surrounding the September 11th Attacks of 2001 on the United States. In addition to the many other issues concerning the ADL including school vouchers and President george w. bush's "Faith Based Initiative" to allow certain charities to receive federal funds, the ADL Internet site features a "Terrorism Update". The ADL has also created a handbook with suggestions for keeping Jewish institutions safe from terrorist attacks.

The ADL is divided into numerous groups and departments. The Civil Rights Division is the most prominent wing of the organization, as it has investigated and exposed anti-Semitism and bigotry. The division's research department has become a central source of information on organized bigotry, collecting and analyzing racist, anti-Semitic, terrorist, and extremist literature. The department issues an annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents that serves as a reliable measurement tool of anti-Semitic trends. The Civil Rights Division's fact-finding department uses investigative journalists to track the activities of extremist groups. For example, this department tracked neo-Nazi skinhead activity in 33 countries and issued the first major survey on this movement.

The Civil Rights Division's legal affairs department serves as the ADL's advocate in court and before legislatures. The department's attorneys file briefs, analyze proposed bills and regulations, draft model laws, and prepare testimony and legal reports for ADL staff. The department's model hate crimes law has been adopted by almost four-fifths of the states and has been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in State v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476, 113 S.Ct. 2194, 124 L.Ed.2d 436 (1993). In addition, the department works with local attorneys in the ADL's thirty regional offices.

The ADL's Braun Holocaust Institute, established in 1977, serves as a centralized information center on the Holocaust. The institute encourages public and religious schools to teach about the Holocaust by providing curricula for elementary and high school students. It has also organized teacher-training workshops and seminars to help teachers incorporate Holocaust studies into mainstream disciplines. The institute's collection of Holocaust-related materials is recognized as one of the best in the world. In addition, the institute publishes Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies, a general interest magazine on the Holocaust, and resource guides, catalogs, and background primers.

The Government and National Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., serves as the ADL's lobbyist, promoting the legislative agenda of the organization. The office worked with Congress to establish a congressional task force against anti-Semitism. The ADL has also led a broad coalition of civil rights, religious, and law enforcement groups in support of federal hate crime initiatives. In addition, the ADL has fought against federal school voucher programs and has sought to increase workplace protection for employees who wish to observe their religious duties.

The ADL's commitment to the state of Israel includes maintaining an office in Jerusalem. This office provides information on current issues to ADL staff and members, and it communicates the U.S. Jewish community's concerns to the Israeli government. The Jerusalem office also introduces visiting Americans, such as government officials and journalists, to the people and politics of Israel. The ADL has endorsed the need for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians but has been an adamant defender of Israel and opponent of Terrorism.

Further readings

Anti-Defamation League. Available online at <> (accessed May 30, 2003).

Levin, Jack, and Jack McDevitt. 2002. Hate Crimes Revisited. New York: Westview.

Stern-Larosa, Caryl, and Ellen Hoffheimer-Bettmann. 2001. Anti-Defamation League's Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice. New York: BT Bound.


Hate Crime; Hate Crime "Do Hate Crime Laws Restrict First Amendment Rights?" (In Focus); Libel and Slander.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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