The Volokh Conspiracy

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Defamation by the Anti-Defamation League (UPDATED: ADL Apologizes)

The ADL defames Canary Mission.


Canary Mission is a controversial, secretive organization dedicated to publicizing extreme anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic views of various activists. Its primary modus operandi is to tweet screenshots of tweets by extemists, such as the one reprinted below.

Many people, including some who are otherwise pro-Israel and hostile to anti-Semitism, find Canary Mission's tactics objectionable and counter-productive. (I take no position on the matter.) Among them are pro-Israel students at the University of Michigan, who circulated a letter to other student Jewish and pro-Israel groups condemning Canary Mission's tactics.

The students also stated that they "view much of the rhetoric employed to villainize these individuals as hateful and, in some cases, Islamophobic and racist." I reached out yesterday via email to one of the Michigan students listed as a contact on the student letter, and asked him if he could provide any examples of Islamaphobic rhetoric used by Canary Mission, given that there were no examples provided in the letter. He has not responded. Unfortunately, I don't expect much more these days from students, who have been trained to call things they dislike "racist."

I do expect more of the Anti-Defamation League. Even if the ADL objects to Canary Mission's tactics, it is a highly professional organization that supposed to be in the same business as Canary Mission, that is, combating anti-Semitism. More important, I would expect the ADL to be very careful about labeling a group's rhetoric "racist." Yet, a day after the students' letter appeared, the ADL's national office tweeted, "thank you to @umich student leaders for exposing Canary Mission's Islamophobic & racist rhetoric as 'antithetical and destructive to supporting Israel and eliminating anti-Semitism on campus.'"

I googled ADL and Canary Mission, and could not find any ADL report analyzing or condemning Canary Mission. So I emailed ADL's media folks yesterday morning, and asked if they could "please point me to the underlying evidence that ADL has relied on in support of its accusation of racism and Islamaphobia?" I sent a follow up email six hours later, and received this response: "Our research team is pulling together examples for you, so please stand by."

It's now the next morning, and still nothing. One would think that the ADL, an organization whose reputation depends on correctly identifying anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, wouldn't accuse a fellow Jewish organization, or anyone for that matter, of racism without having the research on hand to support it. It shouldn't take a post hoc research effort, much less one that hasn't borne fruit more than twenty-four hours after an initial inquiry.

The ADL has always been a left-leaning organization, though it has taken a sharper turn left since Jonathan Greenblatt took over from long-time president Abe Foxman. Last year, the ADL embarrassed itself when some of its officials proclaimed or implied that a spate of bomb threats against Jewish institutions were Donald Trump's fault; they turned out to be the product of a disturbed Israeli-American teenager who relished the attention.

Despite practically volunteering itself as a charter member of the resistance, the anti-Semitic extremist far left remains hostile to the ADL. Nevertheless, the ADL seems to want to go out of its way to curry favor with its enemies on the left, even if that requires reckless, evidence-less attacks on other Jewish organizations. The only thing it has to lose is its credibility.


The Anti-Defamation League said it regretted using "overly broad language" to describe the Canary Mission, a group that posts blacklists of what it says are anti-Israel students on campuses.

"We regret the overly broad language that we used to describe the Canary Mission in a tweet earlier this week," an ADL spokesman said in an email Thursday evening after JTA asked the group to demonstrate where Canary Mission had deployed "Islamophobic & racist rhetoric," as ADL had alleged in its tweet.