November 2022 Update

In early November, I attended the ADL conference for the first time at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. In our fractious society, I thought I needed a bit of inspiration (or at least, more insight). Happily I got both.

Highlights of the conference follow, and at the end, a spoiler alert:

This conference was focussed on anti-Semitism, whose enormous rise is up 34% from last year—with over 2700 incidents against Jews. Despite Jews being less than 2% of US population, over 60% of violence (against any group) was directed against Jews in the past year. Incredible, right?

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti Defamation League, has been busy. Every week, it seems there are new problems to address. Former President Trump recently dined with Kanye West and Holocaust denier, Nick Fuentes, at his Mar-a-Lago Florida home—despite Kanye ranting about Jews while praising Hitler (“I like Hitler”!) and despite Fuentes, a white nationalist who denies the Holocaust. To him, I might ask, “Then where are my grandparents, their siblings, their spouses, and all their children?”

By the way, after Trump’s recent announcement that he will run for President again, Greenblatt, paraphrased the familiar MAGA slogan (Make America Great Again), and tweeted “Make America Hate Again.”

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, receiving Courage Against Hate award from Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of ADL

Among the speakers were Albert Bourla (CEO of Pfizer) given a Courage Against Hate award—highlighting his courage, despite death threats, to keep producing and distributing the Pfizer vaccine throughout the world—and for free to very poor countries who have no money to pay for it; Christopher Wray, current Director of the FBI describing special training new FBI agents are getting at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC; Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was held hostage in his former synagogue in Colleyville, Texas; journalists Bret Stephens (of NYT), Ruth Marcus and Gene Robinson (both of the Washington Post), giving their views about the midterms that had just taken place and about the upcoming 2024 election (Note: ADL conference occurred on Thursday, January 10, only two days after the Midterms).

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, held hostage in Colleyville, Texas, with Ann Weiss

Two of the most astounding speakers were Liz Cheney (recently voted out of office, and staunch member of the January 6th Commission) and Rupert Campbell, President of Adidas—he was a complete surprise to audience!

Liz Cheney explaining what’s most important to her, with Abby Pogrebin

When Liz Cheney was asked the pivotal question by her interlocateur, Abby Pogrebin: “If you knew that you would lose your job and your power, would you do it again?” her answer was clear and unequivocal: “I didn’t do what I did for power or to keep my job. I did it to protect the constitution!” And without hesitation, she affirmed she would do it again. Although Liz Cheney, herself a staunch conservative, is not a natural choice to speak at the more liberal ADL, the packed room exploded with applause and admiration for her.

The biggest surprise of the conference was the appearance of Adidas’ North American President, Rupert Campbell. Remember that, after Kanye’s anti-Semitic rants, all his sponsors immediately dropped him, including the high end fashion company, Balenciaga. Only Adidas did not severed its ties with Kanye.

Jonathan Greenblatt began his opening speech, detailing ADL’s work around the world, but very soon, he spoke about Adidas. He told the audience that he had called the president of Adidas and informed him that ADL would keep ‘hammering’ Adidas, non-stop, UNTIL they did “the right thing” (i.e., cut their ties with a ranting anti-Semite) and that, once they did, then ADL would praise and publicize Adidas—but not until then.

And finally Adidas did drop Kanye!—and Jonathan Greenblatt proudly showed off his brand new Adidas sneakers (purchased the night before). And to the shock of the audience, out came the president of Adidas!

President of Adidas, North America, Rupert Campbell

Born in Jamaica, and himself an immigrant, Rupert Campbell was raised in London but has lived in many countries—including Ukraine and in Russia. He explained that Adidas’ delay in severing ties with Kanye was due to complications in dissolving their contract—which took several days to unravel. And then he made an astounding announcement: Not only would Adidas never work with anti-Semites or bigots again, but they would now be PARTNERING on projects with ADL! What a long way they have come!

The day was filled with activists and experts. We heard formal talks and inside reports from world leaders of Jewish communities in France, Great Britain, Canada and Chile. We also heard college students talk about the difficulties they experienced with anti-Semitic groups and actions against Jews on their own college campuses—and how these students chose to fight it. And in the midst of it all, I met people from around the world.

One of the most memorable was my meeting with an official from Israel’s Ministry of Justice, Marlene Masel.

Israel Ministry of Justice officials, Marlene Mazel (left) Director of Terrorism and Counterterrorism with Shira Meir (right), Director of Foreign Relations

Marlene Masel is Director of the Office of Terrorism and Counter Terrorism, based in Jerusalem, Israel. Aside from our sharing a very warm connection—she made it clear that her office does not only protect Jews in Israel, but all over the world—the photo I took of her and Israel’s Director of Foreign Relations at the Ministry of Justice, Shira Meir, is featured on the Ministry’s web site! And our book, The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau is now housed in the library of the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem. In my inscription, I was drew a contrast between the people featured in the book and the work she is doing: “As you protect the people of Israel from their enemies, think of the people in these pages, people who were NOT protected by their government…

Israeli Ministry of Justice official, Marlene Mazel with Ann Weiss

From beginning to end, this ADL conference was filled with vital information, vibrant talks with people (both on stage and off), and much needed inspiration. I am so grateful for all of it! And have enough strength ‘to keep on keeping on’!

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