ADL: After 100 Years of Fighting Hate, What's Next?

Celebrating an anniversary like the Anti-Defamation League's Centennial leads to thinking about what we have accomplished over the years.

Of course, there are the programs, the policies, the legislation that we believe have made a contribution to society. Our model hate-crime law that now exists in 46 states; our leadership in having legislation enacted against the Arab boycott of Israel; our landmark studies on anti-Semitism and prejudices; our groundbreaking education program, A World of Difference, which has brought lessons about pluralism and diversity to teachers, students, corporation and law enforcement.

As significant as all these and other programs have been, I believe our largest contribution lies in certain concepts and approaches which have, over the decades, become an integral part of American life and, we believe, have made America a significantly healthier place for its residents.

First, is the idea embodied in our name: Anti-Defamation. We have played a leading, if not the leading role, in making it unacceptable to engage in public slurs against people because of their race, religion, ethnicity and now sexual orientation. Yes, there are occasions when political correctness can go too far, but the truth is our society is a lot healthier for minorities of all kinds and for the body politic as a whole because of the unacceptability of the kinds of comments that were a common part of the public space -- including the workplace and other institutions -- decades ago. It is often heard on TV shows or in movies (most recently in the Netflix series "House of Cards"), when a slur is uttered, a character says that this will be reported to the ADL. Enough said.

Connected to this theme is our focus on exposing haters to public scrutiny. This has served several purposes. It has educated the public as to the existence of extremists in society and the dangers they pose. It reinforces the habit of leaders and others to speak out against these kinds of hatreds and further marginalizes haters from mainstream of society and respectability. One of the key moments in which ADL implemented this concept was in Georgia in the 1960s when we took the lead in passage of an anti-mask law which mandated that if groups like the KKK were to engage in demonstrations they could not hide their faces behind sheets.

Thirdly, I believe we have played a significant role in demonstrating that the fight against hatred and bigotry is not based on one ideology, one policy and one vantage point. Instead we have lived by the idea that success in this struggle requires a serious integrated, comprehensive approach.

A few examples. We are known as a hard-hitting, tough organization that consistently condemns manifestations of hatred, but we know that's not enough. We combine with that a multitude of long-term education programs to change people's hearts and minds. We seek to make bigotry unfashionable now and in the future.

We are known as outspoken defenders of the Jewish people, combating anti-Semitism, anti-Israel bias and terrorism. However, we also stand up for other minorities because it is the right thing to do and because the ultimate victory against bigotry depends on groups standing up for each other.

And we take very seriously both sides of the civil liberties versus security debate that is particularly raging after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. First Amendment protections are essential for minorities as we expend much effort in promoting free speech, church-state separation and the legal rights of all Americans. But we know as well that it takes more than our constitution to protect our country in a dangerous world. That is why we have extensive programs with law enforcement, training them on issues of extremism, hate crimes and diversity. That is why we support legislation to counter terrorism and that is why we always look to recalibrate, balance between security and liberties.

We have much to celebrate as we complete 100 years. We know, however, the challenges ahead may be greater than ever. We believe that we have developed concepts and directions that enable our society to meet these challenges in a way that was not possible decades ago.

We are committed to continue the good fight, using the experience, credibility and concepts that have embodied ADL. That is why we continue to do what we do, and why we have taken on as our Centennial theme, "Imagine A World Without Hate." Because much as I wish that we could put ourselves out of business, the fact is that there is still much work to be done.

Anti-Defamation League's Centennial

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and co-author of the forthcoming book, "Viral Hate" (Palgrave Macmillan, June 2013).