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Banishing Intolerance

March 13, 2013
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The world would be a better place if the Anti-Defamation League no longer existed. This is not a denigration of the seminal Jewish organization that is marking its 100th anniversary this year. Rather, it’s a reflection on the state of the world, where anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head, and where bigotry and hate continue to take a toll on our society.

Born in the wake of the 1913 trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory supervisor who was accused of murder and later lynched in Atlanta, the goals of the early founders were lofty: “to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience, and if necessary by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people.

“Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.”

The kind of anti-Semitism that led to Frank’s lynching and barred Jews from colleges, law firms and social clubs for decades no longer exists in this country. But while anti-Semitism has decreased here, it has intensified in many other countries, often conflated with anti-Israel attitudes. The Internet poses a new set of challenges, with a horrifying number of websites and Facebook pages devoted exclusively to hating Jews.

From the outset, the ADL’s mission was both particular — to fight prejudice against Jews — and universal — to guard against bigotry and hate wherever it exists.

To those ends, the group engages in myriad activities. It conducts annual audits of anti-Semitic incidents in this country and measures anti-Semitic attitudes around the world. It promotes civil rights for minorities, preaches against anti-Islamic fervor and provides sensitivity training for law enforcement officials. Locally, it has instituted an annual Walk Against Hate.

But its most important work is arguably in the field of education, with programs like “No Place for Hate” and “A World of Difference,” that teach students how to recognize and combat prejudice, bigotry and intolerance.

It’s easy for an institution to label itself “No Place for Hate.” You see the posters at schools and facilities across the region, blaring their participation in one of ADL’s signature programs. But it’s another thing to actually live that ideal. That takes hard work.

In an era when racial and ethnic intolerance is more subtle than in the past, when bullying is leading to more dire situations like suicides, these programs appear more critical than ever.

We’d like to believe ADL’s leaders who say they’d like to see their work no longer needed. The realists among us know that’s unlikely to happen in our lifetime. But it’s a goal we all have to work toward, one step at a time.

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