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Jonathan Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, says it’s time to redouble efforts to fight hate and extremism. But it must be done with a coalition of other civil rights groups to confront the menace of bigotry, and to disrupt the mechanisms the merchants of racism and anti-Semitism use to spread their diabolical ideas.

Greenblatt brought that message with him last week to Michigan during a stop that included meeting with various leaders to share ideas about how to fight intolerance in a polarized political atmosphere. He said while strongly held views are healthy for a democracy as ours, it should not come at the expense of eroding the rights of minorities and dividing communities with the politics of nativism and xenophobia.

“We know that when hate lands at the doorstep of any community, we have to combat it and prevent it from spreading,” Greenblatt told me in an interview. “Working with groups like the NAACP, the Urban League and the ACLU is critical for us to achieve our mission of stopping the defamation of the Jewish people and securing justice and fair treatment for all.”

He said the groups he is partnering with have “a unique voice in their community and we always are hoping to share best practices with these organizations to work toward our shared goals.”

“You need a bigger and stronger coalition of voices to step up and speak out. Tap the power of collaboration,” Greenblatt said. “If a broad and diverse group can find common ground in this climate of incivility and divisiveness, that will go a long way in the fight against inequality.”

Greenblatt, who's been on the job for a little over two years now, gets it. He understands that successful movements in history that fought injustices of the past were the result of a coalition of organizations that came together with a common goal.

A case in point is the historic black-Jewish coalition that existed during the civil rights movement and was reflected in the close relationship between Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Heschel, who was one of the most influential Jewish theologians and social activists, introduced King in 1967 at Riverside Church in New York where he delivered “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” a searing critique of the war in Vietnam. He also also took part in the Selma-to-Montgomery march in Alabama, which led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Greenblatt, who was a speaker at the last NAACP convention, wants to reignite that past relationship between the two communities to battle intolerance. He called it a “missed opportunity,” that no one from the staff at ADL took part in the 50th anniversary of the Selma march in 2015, where the keynote speaker was former President Barack Obama.  

“When I took over the ADL, I brought all of our staff to Selma and we marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge,” Greenblatt said. “It tends to be the same people who resent blacks,resent Jews.”

He added, “There is no reason for the increase in hate and anti-Semitism we are seeing but we have seen it accelerate amid the rising climate of incivility.”

George Selim, senior vice president of programs and the first high-ranking Arab American working for the ADL, agreed.

“Extremists in the U.S. are more emboldened today than ever at any time in recent memory – their rise threatens all religious and ethnic minorities. For a long time, they and others like them were confined to the extreme margins of society. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore,” Selim said. “One reason for this is technology, which has accelerated the speed with which hate spreads. The alt-right has leveraged the anonymity and connectivity of social media to move out of the shadows and into the spotlight.”

He said an ADL study earlier this year found that there were at least 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets shared or re-shared in English on Twitter over a 12-month period (ending Jan. 28, 2018).

“Those 4.2 million tweets were sent from an estimated 3 million Twitter handles,” Selim said. “This new data shows that even with the steps Twitterhas taken to remove hate speech and deal with those accounts disseminating it, users are still spreading a shocking amount of anti-Semitism and using Twitter as a megaphone to harass and intimidate Jews.”

Selim, who led the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism Task Force until his resignation last year, said, “In our view, part of the ‘fight’ against online hate needs to be spent looking for ways technology can promote social good.”

Richard Nodel, who hosted Greenblatt for a leadership breakfast during his visit, underscored the work of the ADL.

“The ADL makes practice of keeping tabs on various extremist groups and is a resource to law enforcement in providing information on these groups and individuals,” Nodel said.

 bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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