» We Thank You
New York ADL Homepage

ADL Kicks-Off Its Centennial Year

Date: December 17, 2012


Nearly a century ago, in 1913, a visionary attorney from Chicago brought together a group of prominent Jewish leaders to form a mechanism to fight back against the anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination then rampant in society.  Thus, with a $200 budget and two desks in his Chicago law office, the Anti-Defamation League was born.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) kicked-off the commemoration of its 100th anniversary by returning to the city of its birth for its Annual Meeting and formally recognizing those individuals, including attorney Sigmund Livingston, who played a role in its establishment and growth from a small outfit to world leader in the fight against anti-Semitism and hate.

More than 500 leaders gathered from across the country to listen to and engage with a series of high-profile speakers on issues at the forefront of ADL’s agenda, including a post-mortem on the presidential election, an update on global anti-Semitism, and briefings on pluralism and prejudice in America, immigration reform, the security situation facing Israel, and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Chicago has special significance for ADL as its birthplace and original headquarters, as well as one of the oldest regional offices involved in grassroots work in the community.

ADL’s Annual Meeting opened on Thursday, November 15 at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown with a reading of the League’s original founding charter, and a special tribute to Sigmund Livingston, who launched ADL in 1913 with a vision of an organization that would raise its voice, through “appeals to reason and conscience” to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

Members of the Livingston family were on hand for the tribute, as well as a number of Chicago luminaries and community leaders.  Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, delivered a special address on the past, present and future of the organization and its mission for the next century.

“We were thrilled to have an opportunity to return to our birthplace of Chicago, and to honor and recognize the individual who saw the need for an organization that would not only defend Jews from discrimination, but would stand up and give a voice to all minorities who faced bigotry and hatred in America,” said Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair.  “As we mark our 100th anniversary and look back over ADL’s accomplishments through the years, we are all too aware that the anti-Semitism that spurred the creation of the League is still with us today, though in different forms and intensity.  Sigmund Livingston would be proud of how much we have accomplished, and yet he would likely agree that our work is far from finished, and that anti-Semitism remains a current event as much as it is a part of history.”

ADL begins its second century knowing that there is much work to be done.  With a Centennial year theme of “Imagine a World without Hate™,” ADL remains dedicated to making our country a more inclusive home for all; where being different is not a liability, and diversity is a cherished strength.  The League will encourage the public to join us throughout 2013 for a series of special events and programs, including the ADL Centennial Summit & Gala in Washington, D.C. in April 2013, featuring a roster of special guests, celebrity tributes, prominent speakers and dignitaries.

ADL’s History in Brief

The Beginning: 1913

Sigmund Livingston, a Chicago attorney, believed that there was a significant need to form an organization to protect Jews from the blatant anti-Semitism of the day. With the support of the B’nai B’rith organization, Mr. Livingston founded ADL in 1913, with two desks in his office and $200.

In that same year, the Jewish manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia was falsely accused and convicted of murdering a young Christian girl who worked at the factory. After a sensational trial, with weak evidence, a jury sentenced Leo Frank to death. The Georgia Governor’s commutation of the death sentence in 1915 so enraged the populace that a mob stormed the prison and lynched Leo Frank, an act that became a symbol of Jew-hatred in America.

“In the first half of the 20th century, the American atmosphere reeked of anti-Semitism, from the radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin to Henry Ford’s publication of the notorious anti-Semitic forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his The Dearborn Independent to the ‘Jews need not apply’ notices in major national newspapers,” said Mr. Foxman.

The 1920s

The unemployment and economic distress following World War I led to the scapegoating of Jews and discrimination in education, employment, and housing. The Ku Klux Klan, dormant since the end of the Civil War, was revitalized.

Automotive pioneer Henry Ford published a version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an incendiary fabrication about Jewish so-called plans for world domination that ignited pogroms and other forms of anti-Semitism in Russia and Europe.  ADL exposed Ford’s calumnies, The International Jew and the Dearborn Independent, by publishing informational pamphlets.

ADL was also faced with the challenge of a different form of bias including quotas that limited the admission of Jews to colleges and universities, and the exclusion of Jews from resorts, certain neighborhoods and professions.

The 1930’s

As fascism and Nazism were gaining ground in Europe, American sympathizers and supporters were trumpeting anti-Semitism.  The “Radio Priest,” Father Charles Coughlin, broadcast his message of anti-Semitism to millions of Americans.

The 1940s

Even as America entered the war, the Nazi onslaught moved across Europe, determined to exterminate the Jewish population. Once again Jews were being blamed for the nation’s economic woes and for bringing the country to the brink of war.  Increasingly, the FBI and the press turned to ADL for its expertise.

In 1942, Henry Ford sent a letter to ADL’s Chairman stating: “…the hate-mongering prevalent for some time in this country against the Jews, is a distinct disservice to our country, and to the peace and welfare of humanity…”

With the Allied victory over Nazism and the realization that 6 million Jews were murdered, the birth of the State of Israel offered new hope for the Jewish people. “As the Holocaust was the darkest time for Jews, the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 was the brightest,” said Mr. Foxman. “But all too soon Jews were again attacked, this time by Arab armies opposed to Israel’s very existence. And so a new priority for ADL was to make the case for America’s only democratic ally in the region.”

The 1950s

In the post-World War II era the “communist scare” led to witch hunting epitomized by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “During the 1950s a new, sinister brand of anti-Semitism emerged, introduced by Sen. McCarthy’s implication that Jews were communists and therefore disloyal to America,”
said Mr. Sugarman.

ADL joined in Brown versus the Board of Education, the landmark case which ends ‘separate but equal” in public schools. 

The League championed anti-mask laws that passed in six Southern states and fifty communities, preventing Klansman from wearing hoods in public – leading to a dramatic drop in Klan membership.

The 1960s

Jews and Blacks joined forces in a Civil Rights movement for equal rights that met strong resistance in the South. ADL was on the front lines on the ground in the South, in the halls of government in support of the passage of landmark Civil Rights legislation, and in the courts.

In 1964, ADL and the University of California at Berkeley joined forces to measure the level of anti-Semitism and prejudice in America. In its benchmark study of American Attitudes Towards Jews, the League found that 29 percent of Americans held strong anti-Semitic views. This led to the publication of an eight volume series on anti-Semitism and prejudice in America and spurred ADL to develop educational programs nationwide to promote understanding and inclusion.

Catholic-Jewish relations, made inert by centuries of the teaching of contempt, became engaged when the Vatican issued Nostra Aetate, its 1965 landmark declaration absolving Jews of the deicide charge. ADL’s national and local interfaith dialogues opened the door for greater understanding between Catholics and Jews, as well as other Christian denominations.


The ‘70s saw the culmination of three decades of ADL work to fight the Arab boycott of Israel,” said Mr. Foxman. The Arab-imposed boycott against Israel and companies doing business with Israel gained worldwide support in its effort to isolate Israel economically and diplomatically. ADL led anti-boycott efforts, successfully urging Congress to adopt laws to prevent U.S. companies from complying with the Arab blacklist.

The PLO and other radical groups employed terrorism against Israel and its citizens, including the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. Arab nations attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, 1973. ADL worked tirelessly to repeal the infamous 1975 “Zionism is Racism” U.N. resolution.

“The light at the end of the dark decade of the seventies was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s courageous act of going to Jerusalem to seek peace, resulting in the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty,” Mr. Foxman concluded.


Continuing to expose hatemongers, ADL revealed the anti-Semitism and racism of Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam and former KKK leaders David Duke and Tom Metzger, among others. ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents became an important measure of how anti-Semitism is acted out and a model adopted by other minority groups.

ADL’s years of experience in the human relations field led to the 1985 creation in Boston of its award-winning A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE campaign. The campaign was rolled out nationally, with ADL experts providing anti-bias training in schools and universities, for educators, corporations, communities and law enforcement professionals on the local, state and federal levels.

ADL led the way for the enactment of hate crime legislation on the state and federal levels, drafting a model statute.  Hate crime laws are now on the books in 45 states and the District of Columbia, many based on ADL’s model, which was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Internationally, ADL was deeply involved the Soviet Jewry Movement. “Knowing the road to Moscow was through Washington, we worked to gain government support to pressure the USSR to let Soviet Jews either live as Jews or leave,” said Mr. Foxman. We visited Moscow, Kiev and other cities to bring hope and assure refuseniks that their struggle was a high priority on the US-Soviet agenda.”

In the Middle East, both the Lebanon War in 1982 and the First Palestinian Intifada starting in 1987 posed challenges to Israel’s image in the U.S., prompting ADL to intensify its support and advocacy of Israel’s security.


“The new technology of the Internet, linking people globally, marked a sea change for ADL,” said Mr. Sugarman.  The Web, with its potential to foster the best through communication became an important tool for anti-Semites, racists and extremists to recruit members and promote their hateful messages inexpensively, instantaneously, and sometimes anonymously. ADL developed a HateFilter to provide parents with a means to protect their children from the uninvited hate that often popped up on their computer screens. The League initiated a campaign to get Internet providers to self-regulate their sites so that the users could be safe from hate.

Anti-government extremist activity intensified and armed militias grew in number.  In a report entitled, “Armed and Dangerous,” ADL warned that such militia activity could lead to violent explosions.  With the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the subsequent attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Americans experienced terrorism firsthand.

Hope for peace in the Middle East took a positive turn as Israelis and Palestinians entered into talks at the 1991 Madrid Conference. In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin was elected Prime Minister and his efforts to forge peace resulted in the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles signed on September 13, 1993. “That day on the White House lawn I believed peace would finally be a reality and the violence and terrorism would end. Unfortunately it was not to be,” said Mr. Foxman. Though Jordan and Israel did sign a peace treaty in 1994, violence and terrorism continued with suicide bombings and the assassination of Rabin.

ADL develops the No Place for Hate® Initiative to counteract hate violence such as the Co9lumbine High School shooting, the attack on the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center by white supremacist, Buford Furrow, and the murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.

The New Century 2000-2010

The hope that comes with a new millennium was not to be fulfilled in the first years of the new century. All of Israel’s efforts for peace were rejected by the Palestinians and new intifada began, coupled with suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism against Israelis at home and abroad. Islamic extremist hate against Israel, Jews and America was disseminated via the media and Internet. Anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-American activists hijacked the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in August 2001 to promote their own agenda.

“As ugly as Durban was, we could not have imagined the events of 9/11. Yet as Jews, we have a history of experience of what hate can lead to,” said Mr. Foxman. “Today we must combat the Big Lie, the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory blaming Jews for 9/11, which more than half the world believes to be true. We must fight against anti-Semitism the likes of which we have not seen for more than half a century, and the hatred that murdered Daniel Pearl and engages in acts of terrorism.”

For more than a decade, ADL led the fight for Federal hate Crime legislation, finally celebrating the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009.

The Years Ahead

Today, ADL remains actively involved in a host of issues on the domestic scene -- advocating for strong hate crime laws, fighting in the courts for equal rights for all minorities, speaking out on behalf of immigrants who face unfair discrimination, educating against bias and bullying in schools, and working with law enforcement to raise awareness of extremism and terrorism.

“As we reflect back on ADL’s history, we bring to the future the lessons of the past,” concluded Mr. Sugarman. “ADL stands strong and ready to meet the challenges before us to protect and promote America’s democratic values for all Americans, to defend the Jewish people and the Jewish State of Israel.”

How to Help
donate Support ADL and its work in the New York region.
Get ADL Online Newsletter Subscribe Update your Profile

©2012 Anti-Defamation League. All rights reserved. The Anti-Defamation League is a
not-for-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).