Starbucks Teams up with ADL, Pro-Israel Group that Spied on Activists

Starbucks enlisted the Anti-Defamation League for anti-bias training. The ADL is a pro-Israel advocacy group accused of spying on Palestinians and anti-apartheid activists. Jewish Voice for Peace director Rebecca Vilkomerson says #DropTheADL

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Story Transcript

BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News. I’m Ben Norton. Coffee giant Starbucks has faced intense criticism in the past two weeks for racial discrimination against black customers. On April 12, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. They had been sitting in the store waiting for a friend to arrive, and after just two minutes the store manager called the police , claiming the men refused to buy anything. Police soon arrived and immediately arrested them without explanation. Video of the racist incident quickly went viral, and in response to the public backlash, Starbucks announced that it will begin conducting racial bias training with its employees. However, in order to do this racial bias training, Starbucks said it will be working with the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL claims to be a civil rights organization, but in reality is a pro-Israel lobby group that spends the majority of its time and resources advocating on behalf of the Israeli government. In fact, the ADL has repeatedly been accused of spying on progressive activists, especially Palestinian and other Arab activists. The ADL was also accused of spying on activists who opposed the apartheid regime in South Africa, which was allied with the U.S. and Israel, and has been accused of spying on antiwar activists who campaigned against the U.S. arming of far-right death squads in Central America in the 1980s and ’90s. Jewish Voice for Peace, the largest grassroots Jewish organization working for the full equality of all people in Israel-Palestine, published a statement criticizing Starbucks for partnering with the ADL. Jewish Voice for Peace has launched a campaign called #DropTheADL.

Joining us to discuss this is Rebecca Vilkomerson. Rebecca is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. She was named one of the 50 most influential Jewish figures named worldwide by The Jerusalem Post in 2017, and she also frequently writes for major newspapers. Thanks for joining us, Rebecca.

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Thanks for having me.

BEN NORTON: So , JVP released a statement on this, and you wrote, quote: “The ADL has a long history of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian advocacy, and at a minimum has shown profound insensitivity toward black communities.” Can you talk about some of this?

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah it felt really important to us to come out and say that because, you know, we have a long-standing commitment to anti-Islamophobia. We have and against Islamophobia that’s been active for a long time. We also have a campaign against police exchanges, of which ADL is one of the largest purveyors, are police exchanges between the U.S. And Israel. And so it felt really important to add our voices to the many voices, I have to say, that that spoke out in the wake of the ADL being named as one of the trainers. And I would want to say that the other groups, Equal Justice Initiative, and Demos, and the NAACP that were named as trainers, we think the world of all three of those organizations and we’re really thrilled that they’re going to be part of that training day. You know, obviously it’s a first step. There’s a lot to be said about the ways Starbucks as a corporation is dealing with this day. But I think it is an important step that they’re taking, and we are glad that those three organizations are involved, but we do have really serious concerns about the ADL, given its history that you just ran down, of really partnering quite closely with the police in particular, again, against Muslim communities, and and at the very least being very insensitive to many concerns in the black community.

And I think in addition to that, you know, from our perspective and the work we do, we find that although the ADL often calls itself a civil rights organization, it also spends a lot of its political capital on supporting and defending Israel. So it, for example, supports the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem. It attacked the unarmed protesters in Gaza who were being mowed down by the Israeli army and sort of blamed it on them and on Hamas. They sort of, they have worked against, worked to promote anti-BDS bills, anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction bills, that are going through state Houses and the federal legislature. So they spend a lot of their time and credibility that they get as a civil rights organization supporting Israel’s position. So a combination of all those factors made it feel really important that we take this moment to say, hey, the ADL was not exactly the right organization to be used when Starbucks is responding to an incident when, you know, of this kind of policing.

BEN NORTON: Yeah. And JVP wrote in its statement, quote: “The ADL’s aggressive support of Israel often comes at the cost of human and civil rights of Palestinians.” A colleague of mine who writes for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a media watchdog, Adam Johnson, has repeatedly documented how media outlets will quote the ADL as if it’s this neutral civil rights organization. But then when you look to their website and you look up things like police brutality, broken windows, you know, things that affect largely communities of color that you think a civil rights organization would campaign against, there aren’t that many mentions compared to Israel. If you go look at his website the vast majority of the press releases and statements the ADL releases are about Israel-Palestine. So can you talk about how it has marketed itself not just to people around the country, but to media outlets?

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really important. There’s a few different pieces of it. One is that they have positioned themselves as the preeminent experts on anti-semitism, and especially as anti-semitism has sort of reared its ugly head in a new way since the Trump era, I think more and more people have turned to the ADL as experts on that. And it’s not to say that there isn’t some kind, some work they do that’s valuable. But one thing that’s extremely distressing is that they often equate anti-Semitism with anti-Israel speech, and fudge the difference between those, and I think that’s incredibly, incredibly dangerous. So that’s one problem.

Another problem is that they often are willing to sacrifice human rights for the sake of defending Israel. So recently the New Orleans City Council passed a blanket law that was going to try to keep the city of New Orleans to some human rights standards globally around who they contracted with and who their vendors were. And the ADL came out against it, and said you have to it you have to overturn this law, solely because it was going to then be applied to Israel. So they’re really making an exception out of Israel and saying that there’s a carve out for human rights, and they do that over and over and over again. So I think they use their bona fides as a civil rights organization in order to try to push this pro-Israel agenda, while at the same time, again, not to forget the ways that they’re continually fueling Islamophobia, the way they’re partnering deeply with the police, the way they honored the St. Louis Police Department one year after Mike Brown was killed. That is just sort of the different ways that they are superficially supporting civil and human rights while actually often undermining them in a systematic way. I think there’s a lot public discussion.

BEN NORTON: Well, we’ll have to end it there, but thanks so much for joining us. We were speaking with Rebecca Vilkomerson. Rebecca is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, and JVP has recently launched a campaign pressuring Starbucks to #DropTheADL. Thanks for speaking with us, Rebecca.

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Thanks so much.

BEN NORTON: Reporting for The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.