As national director of the Anti-Defamation League for a generation, Abe Foxman became the authority on what is and isn’t anti-Semitism. Foxman’s name, in many respects, became a synonym for the veteran Jewish civil rights group. Jonathan Greenblatt, Foxman’s recently named successor, lacks that name recognition and high-visibility identification with Jewish causes. But that probably would have been true for anyone named as the next person to take the ADL’s helm.
When Greenblatt was introduced to the world as the ADL’s next leader — he will assume the post after Foxman retires in July — the general response was, “Who?”
Greenblatt has been both an entrepreneur and an Obama administration aide. Most recently, he was director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Earlier, he co-founded the premium bottled-water company Ethos Brands (maker of Ethos Water), which was purchased by Starbucks.
Greenberg’s hiring after a two-year search marks a generational change from the leadership of the 74-year-old Foxman. But at 43, Greenblatt is only four years younger than Foxman was when he became national director in 1987. Still, it is significant that out of the hundreds of potential candidates it considered, the search committee chose someone from outside both the ADL and the communal Jewish world.
Can the new leader keep the ADL relevant at a time when anti-Semitism is getting worse in places? Can he figure out a way to raise the voice of concern and condemnation without adding to the noise in an increasingly shrill media environment? Can he find new missions for the 100-year-old ADL? And, despite his Democratic bona fides, can he chart a less partisan course than Foxman, a fellow Democrat, did?
While he will have a lot on his plate, one thing Greenblatt is not expected to do is to step into Foxman’s shoes. That’s OK, since he will almost certainly feel more comfortable in his own. As he begins his work to develop a plan for the ADL’s next quarter-century, we wish Greenblatt success.