Many Americans consider the organization as the champion of civil rights and accept without question its work in combatting anti-Semitism. However, under the screen of fighting for civil rights, the ADL has a long history of spying on Americans engaged in peaceful social justice movements, including Black, Latino, Asian organizations as well as labor unions and civil rights groups.
The ADL spends a portion of its $60 million budget on lobbying lawmakers, influencing decisions on many topics, from Supreme Court appointments to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. It has gone to great lengths to quash any fair discussion on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Tactics have included censorship, intimidation, and smearing and labeling people it does not agree with as anti-Semites or anti-Americans, and have successfully wrecked the careers of notable figures who’s views differed, including Professor Norman Finkelstein and journalist Helen Thomas.
The ADL claims to support efforts to combat Islamophobia, and sometimes makes good on those claims by offering resources and access to elected officials and police departments (whom it coordinates training in Israel for) and partnering with “moderate” Muslims in order to isolate the outspoken ones without appearing anti-Muslim. However, the record shows clearly that it is a major promoter of Islamophobia and racism in the United States. Some examples of this include:
- In 2010, the ADL gave its annual Leadership Award to media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News and other media outlets which actively demonize Muslims and immigrants.
- The ADL was one of the parties actively opposing Park 51 Mosque in New York City and used the same charged terminology introduced by Pamela Geller, labeling it as the “Ground Zero mosque.”
- The ADL “prides itself on its vast data collection” on groups and individuals with whom it does not agree and has a history of spying on American citizens since the 1930’s. According to San Francisco’s District Attorney, in 1993, the ADL “violated state law by collecting confidential information on at least 1,394 political activists and private citizens.” Authorities also found data among ADL files on at least 700 organizations, many of them advocates for civil rights or minority rights, including ADC, NAACP, and NLG.
- The ADL website includes “profiles” of Muslim organizations, with the clear purpose of smearing and marginalizing them, including ICNA, CAIR, AMP, MAS, and others.
- The ADL has worked against Affirmative Action, filing court briefs against the promotion of black prison guards in New York.