As calls for a ceasefire mount and the civilian death toll rises, with at least 12,700 Palestinians estimated dead and 1,200 Israelis killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, both antisemitism and Islamophobia have been on the rise globally. There has arguably never been more of a need for the Anti-Defamation League, one of the largest anti-hate organizations in the world, which is devoted to fighting antisemitism and bigotry of all kinds. 

Yet while global events have placed the ADL front-and-center, the actions of CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, such as his endorsement of Elon Musk’s suggested policy to ban two pro-Palestinian phrases from the platform — “from the river to the sea” and “decolonization” — have prompted criticism from even proponents of the group, to the degree that two members of two different ADL advisory boards are considering issuing their resignation.

Eli Pariser, the founder of the progressive website and a member of the ADL’s tech advisory board, tells Rolling Stone he found Greenblatt’s decision to applaud Musk for banning the terms “both morally wrong and disastrously counterproductive.”

“Censorship of these phrases will not reduce antisemitism,” Pariser says. “Especially while Musk himself, one of the most popular users on the platform, continues to engage with and boost it.” (Though the ADL classifies both phrases as antisemitic, there is some debate as to whether both “from the river to the sea” as a pro-Palestine rallying cry or the phrase “decolonization” with respect to Israel are inherently such.) 

Pariser tells Rolling Stone that, while he has historically supported the ADL’s work against antisemitism and hate speech, “unless the organization changes course, I plan to step down from the Tech Advisory Board.” He noted, however, that if the ADL “acknowledged it had made a big mistake and course corrected,” he would keep his place on the board. 

Such criticism comes on the tail end of Musk endorsing an antisemitic conspiracy theory known as the Great Replacement Theory on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. “You have said the absolute truth,” Musk responded on Wednesday, Nov. 15, to a tweet claiming that Jews promote “hatred against whites.” Musk’s tweet prompted blue-chip brands to stop advertising on X en masse, with Disney, NBC Universal, and Apple saying they intended to stop working with the platform.

At first, Greenblatt publicly condemned Musk’s initial tweet, calling it “indisputably dangerous.” But the ADL has not stopped advertising on X, and just two days after Musk’s antisemitic tweet, Greenblatt publicly approved of Musk’s suggested policy, calling it “an important and welcome move” and commending his leadership.

The whiplash between Greenblatt publicly condemning Musk, who has a history of aligning himself with far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists; and him applauding Musk, was not lost on many on the left, who questioned Greenblatt’s decision. “Jonathan Greenblatt cares more about silencing Palestinians and people who criticize Israel than he does about stopping the white nationalism of Elon Musk,” Jewish Currents editor-at-large Peter Beinert said on Nov. 20 on MSNBC.

Though some ADL advisory board members who spoke with Rolling Stone continue to support Greenblatt, others have raised questions about his leadership, saying that the CEO’s hard-line stance on defending the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza, as well as Greenblatt’s history of aligning himself with an individual known for espousing antisemitic conspiracy theories, are eroding the organization’s credibility. Though such internecine disputes are, to some extent, to be expected — dissent is a fundamental tenet of Judaism — the fact that there is such conflict within the ADL during such a contentious time appears to suggest a need for increased “moral clarity” from the organization, says Peter Fox, a freelance writer and advertising professional. He’s also a member of the NextGen board, which is devoted to young professionals between the ages of 22 and 40 who are “committed to the mission of ADL —to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all,” according to the ADL’s website. 

In response to questions from Rolling Stone, a spokesperson for the ADL defended Greenblatt’s endorsement of Musk’s ban, saying it “laid down a gauntlet that other social media companies should follow.” The spokesperson also argued that Greenblatt’s approval of the policy was not inconsistent with his condemnation of Musk’s prior antisemitic remarks.

“As Jonathan has said repeatedly, this good policy change does not negate Elon’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory days prior,” the spokesperson said. “As Jonathan has said consistently since Elon took over Twitter/X, ADL will call out both the platform and its leadership, including Elon, when they are wrong and will credit them when they get it right.”

In an effort to determine how some of the ADL’s staunchest proponents felt about Greenblatt’s endorsement of Musk, as well as the ADL’s continued relationship to X, Rolling Stone reached out to more than two dozen members of its various advisory boards, including its tech advisory board, its rabbinical advisory board, and its entertainment leadership council. 

Some of those who responded to Rolling Stone spoke in support of Greenblatt, including a member of the New York and New Jersey rabbinical advisory board, Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman of the Larchmont Temple in Westchester. “Jonathan Greenblatt as ADL Exec is resilient in his stance against hate and in particular antisemitism in all its forms,” Sirkman tells Rolling Stone. “Especially since Oct. 7, acts of hate against the North American Jewish community have skyrocketed. ADL, through Greenblatt’s leadership, combats this vitriol and violence at every turn.”

Others, however, like Fox, have expressed concern about some of Greenblatt’s actions. Though Fox says he is largely supportive of both the ADL’s mission and Greenblatt’s leadership, he was surprised that the leader of the ADL, which has long championed the First Amendment, would celebrate banning pro-Palestinian terminology, saying it “walks a really thin line” in infringing on free speech. Fox was even more horrified to see Greenblatt publicly lauding Musk immediately following his endorsement of the Great Replacement theory. 

“To me, it sort of calls back the memory of why this organization was founded in the first place,” he tells Rolling Stone, referring to the ADL’s formation in response to the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish man falsely accused of murder, in 1915. “I think there is a fine line between honoring the core mission of the organization and engaging in public diplomacy.” 

THE ADL AND MUSK HAVE A LENGTHY and complex past. Prior to Musk’s acquisition of X, in October 2022, Greenblatt expressed optimism about him leading the platform, calling him “an amazing entrepreneur and extraordinary innovator and [the] Henry Ford of our time.” (After critics pointed out Ford’s history of antisemitism, Greenblatt backtracked on the comparison, calling it “wrong.”)

In November 2022, Greenblatt appeared to reverse course on his view of Musk’s leadership, joining a number of other civil rights organizations in encouraging advertisers to temporarily stop working with the platform after Musk reinstated the account of former President Donald Trump. And last March, the ADL issued a report stating that X had failed to properly enforce its policies prohibiting antisemitic content. In response, Musk promoted the hashtag #BanTheADL, and threatened to sue the ADL for defamation. (Musk and X have not followed through on these threats to date. Rolling Stone’s request to X for comment was not immediately returned.) 

Musk’s apparent vendetta against the ADL contributed to cementing his image as someone comfortable with endorsing antisemitic conspiracy theories. Since acquiring X, he has reinstated prominent anti-Semites onto the platform, such as Kanye West; and he has a track record of engaging with far-right conspiracy theorists on his platform, including Keith Woods, a white nationalist and self proclaimed “raging anti-Semite,” and Gab CEO Andrew Torba.

For this reason, the ADL’s decision to continue advertising on the platform after its brief November 2022 hiatus has sparked intense criticism from some on the left. After the ADL resumed advertising on X in early 2023, MSNBC columnist Marisa Kabas wrote the decision was “a slap in the face to the American Jews who’d gone to bat for [the ADL].” 

In response to questions from Rolling Stone, a spokesperson for the ADL confirmed that the organization is currently advertising on the platform. The spokesperson declined to disclose how much money the ADL spends on X every year, though they said it represented a “small portion” of the overall advertising budget. (Public tax returns state that the ADL spent more than $770,000 in 2020 on total advertising and marketing, the last year such returns are available.)

“We are not advertising the next Disney movie or the latest iPhone,” the spokesperson said. “Our ads are there to bring people in and educate them about antisemitism. It is an antidote to the antisemitic poison and white nationalist ads, redirecting people to materials that educate.

Twitter/X remains a major social media platform with a massive general audience… so ADL needs to be there.”

Nonetheless, the ADL and Greenblatt’s continued relationship with X and with Musk, has left a bad taste in some people’s mouths — and prompted division among supporters of the ADL and its mission. 

On Nov. 18, Fox, the NextGen advisory board member, penned an op-ed for the Jewish website the Forward, with the headline, “I’m an ADL advisory board member. The CEO’s tweet appeasing Elon Musk is dangerous.” He wrote that Musk “uses his status to amplify far-right ideologies and conspiracy theories. And you cannot make digital diplomacy with a man like that.” He posted the op-ed in a WhatsApp group for members of the ADL’s NextGen board. In response, he says, he was swiftly repudiated.

“Multiple voices immediately chimed in saying it didn’t sit well with them, that they don’t think Jonathan would approve of this message, that I should have gone through the private channels,” he says. “I was told I was disrespectful and unprofessional…. I naively thought that there would be open discussion about the merits of the piece and there was none of that.” 

In response to questions about leadership’s reaction to Fox’s op-ed, the ADL spokesperson said, “it was expressed to him that he could have raised his concerns internally and received all the facts first.” The ADL spokesperson also noted that Fox had not been aware of Greenblatt’s condemnation of Musk’s antisemitic tweet prior to writing the op-ed, though Fox has since updated the piece and posted public clarifications reflecting this.

Pariser and Fox are not the only ADL board members to publicly take aim at Greenblatt. Abraham Foxman, Greenblatt’s predecessor and the former CEO of the ADL, who stepped down in 2015, also publicly lambasted Greenblatt’s cozying up to Musk in a Nov. 21 tweet, writing, “No amount of acrobatics can justify Musk’s frequent embraces of antisemitic themes and providing X as a major platform for his antisemitism. His recent criticism of Hamas and promise to ban some ugly anti-Israel expressions do not vitiate his endorsement of antisemitism.” 

When reached for comment, Foxman initially declined to speak about the ADL directly, saying his statements on X were “only commenting on Musk.” When asked how he felt about the ADL continuing to advertise on the platform, however, he said, “If you call for [a] boycott — why advertise?” “If [Musk] continues to engage in antisemitism and permit other antisemites on his X, then just removing two anti-Israel, anti-Jewish phrases may not do much,” Foxman says. 

WITH THE ADL UNDER SCRUTINY, Greenblatt is now in the position of having to publicly address concerns about his leadership. Though Greenblatt declined to speak with Rolling Stone, he has given multiple interviews to outlets like the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Mediaite, telling the latter that his approval of Musk’s policy banning pro-Palestinian slogans was not ideologically inconsistent with his condemnation of Musk’s endorsement of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

““I don’t think one negates the other. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression,” Greenblatt said. “I’m not saying, ‘Oh, he’s off the hook because he said this on Friday’ or ‘Oh, he’ll always be bad because he said this on Wednesday.’ It’s my job to call it as I see it.’”

It also seems that the increased focus on the ADL and Greenblatt’s leadership has had the effect of silencing members of the organization. Fox said he was lambasted by other NextGen advisory board members for not going through “the proper channels” to write his Forward op-ed, and sources close to the ADL say it is currently being flooded with requests and staff members are being instructed not to speak to reporters. 

When reached for comment, an ADL spokesperson said there was no policy restricting volunteer NextGen board members from publicly expressing criticism of the ADL, though he conceded that the “ADL, like most large organizations, has a longstanding policy that staff direct press to the press office.” 

The controversy over the ADL’s relationship with Musk is only the latest in a series of events that have apparently prompted turmoil within the organization. Former staffers recently told the Daily Beast that there has long been dissent within the ADL, with many critiquing the ADL’s hard-line stance equating anti-Zionism to antisemitism. “When an organization is so biased on something so pronounced like this, I think it definitely taints the rest of the organization,” one former employee told the Daily Beast. 

In response to questions about the Daily Beast’s reporting, a spokesperson for the ADL said that while it is “not uncommon for there to be internal or external disagreements and dissent at an organization as large and as storied as ADL,” the organization’s “employees have stood resolutely with ADL and with Israel during the past 40 days.” 

Indeed, the most recent controversy regarding the ADL and X appears to have strengthened some advisory board members’ support for the organization and its continued presence on the platform. “It seems to me that an organization like [the ADL] needs to operate in the sphere of social media,” says Rabbi Jonathan Blake, who is on the ADL’s Tristate area rabbinical advisory board. “For it to boycott would require it to withdraw, which could have the unintended effect of amplifying the extreme voices who use social media to spread their hate. It would effectively blunt one of its most effective tools.”

Blake acknowledges that Musk appears to have “a blind spot” to antisemitism on the right, and that he seems to be “at best, a troll who trafficks in far-right conspiracy theories.” But he applauded Musk’s ban of phrases that he reads as calling for the destruction of the Jews in Israel, calling it “a step in the right direction” of extirpating antisemitic hate, and continued to assert his support for Greenblatt’s leadership. 

For his part, Fox has mixed feelings about the response to his piece. He says that he is still “very pro-ADL, very pro-Jonathan Greenblatt,” and that in the wake of the controversy, he received a nice message from Greenblatt himself encouraging him to reach out to discuss some of the criticisms in the piece. “He’s a true mensch,” Fox says, using the Yiddish term for a wise and honorable man. “I’ve always viewed him that way.” 

Currently, however, Fox feels torn between supporting the mission of the ADL and Greenblatt’s leadership; and smarting over the aggressive response to his op-ed from his fellow board members. He says he had written the op-ed not as a repudiation of Greenblatt, but in the spirit of trying “to engage in the type of public diplomacy that [Greenblatt is] well regarded for.” 

“It was my attempt to be helpful,” he says. “It was never my intention to stir up controversy.”


Fox says he found it interesting that, in a recent interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that touched on the Musk controversy, Greenblatt told the publication that he is less focused on protecting the ADL’s reputation, and more concerned about “keep[ing the Jewish] community safe.”

While Fox says he respects that point of view, “I think where I’m concerned is seeing that people who generally support the ADL, now they’re starting to question their values,” he says. “And that’s why I was speaking up.”