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The Organization That Cries Wolf

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My late grandfather was a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. Many other members of my extended family were not so fortunate and perished in the Holocaust.

Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), established in 1913, were designed to fight against this scourge of anti-Semitism in particular, and racism in general. However, sadly, the ADL has long since strayed from its original core mission "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all."

In recent decades, the ADL has racked up a checkered history of spying on domestic peace and justice organizations, fanning the flames of Islamophobia, and ironically defaming many who speak out against Israel's human rights abuses of Palestinians and dare to believe that "justice and fair treatment to all" should also apply to Palestinians.

Last week, the ADL added to its clownish "boy-who-cried-wolf" reputation by publishing its list of what it calls the top ten "anti-Israel" organizations in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the organization for which I work -- the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation -- made the list.

The US Campaign is a national coalition of more than 325 organizations working to end U.S. support for Israel's illegal 43-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, and to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. Hardly the white robe-wearing, cross-burning stuff that the organization should be challenging.

If the ADL considers supporting human rights and international law to be "anti-Israel," then it reveals more about the organization's narrow-mindedness, McCarthyite silencing tactics, and support for Israel's oppressive treatment of Palestinians than it does about our alleged motivations.

Indeed, it would seem that for an organization to be considered "pro-Israel" by the ADL, it would need to march in virtual lock step with Israel's ongoing efforts to colonize the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem, besiege the Gaza Strip, repress nonviolent Palestinian organizers (both citizens of Israel and those living under Israeli military occupation), and deny the claims of Palestinian refugees to their right of return home.

In the ADL's absurd reckoning, many Israeli organizations doing work on the ground analogous to our work in the United States must be "anti-Israel" as well. Gush Shalom promotes a boycott of Israeli settlement products. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (whose U.S. affiliate is part of our coalition) rebuilds Palestinian homes destroyed by the Israeli military. B'tselem meticulously records each time Israel kills an innocent Palestinian civilian (more than 3,000 over the past ten years, many of whom are killed with weapons provided by U.S. taxpayers). Anarchists Against the Wall supports the nonviolent, popular demonstrations of Palestinians in the West Bank against the construction of Israel's Apartheid Wall. Zochrot documents and marks former Palestinian villages depopulated and razed by Israel when it was established in 1948.

There are dozens of such Israeli organizations that work admirably and conscientiously to dissent against their government's dismal human rights record and apartheid policies toward Palestinians. Although Palestinian citizens of Israel (who comprise approximately 20% of its population), such as civil rights advocate Ameer Makhoul, continue to face intense repression when trying to exercise their democratic right to dissent, at least these Jewish Israeli organizations are able to provide hope that liberal Israeli civil society will one day be strong enough to change its government's oppressive policies.

Just as these Israeli organizations dissent from their government's subjugation of Palestinians, so too do organizations such as ours dissent from U.S. diplomatic and military support for these Israeli government policies. It is this dissent -- both in the United States and in Israel -- that the ADL is attempting to stamp out by publishing its top ten list of so-called "anti-Israel" organizations.

Fortunately, the ADL is swimming against the historical tide. Millions of people around the world were awakened to the brutality of Israel's policies during its 2006 war on Lebanon and 2008-2009 war on the Gaza Strip. Unprecedented numbers of people, including, as the ADL correctly notes, some Members of Congress who have appeared at our events, are speaking out against these policies. Across the globe, a movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel's policies -- similar in strategy and tactics to the movement that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa -- is flourishing.

The ADL's ineffectual campaign to cow groups such as ours into silence through the publication of a blacklist will backfire. As the ADL itself acknowledges, groups such as ours are helping to change the discourse about our county's policies toward Israel/Palestine in profound ways. Such transformations in public opinion are always a precondition to policy change. It is only a matter of time until politicians in the United States catch up to these attitudinal changes and end U.S. support for Israel's brutal policies toward Palestinians. Only then will Israel feel compelled to negotiate with Palestinians in good faith and treat them as human beings with equal rights. Nothing could be more deeply "pro-Israeli" and "pro-Palestinian" than this.

Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service (CRS).