Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaks at Brown, students walk out

Others stayed for talk centered on antisemitism in higher ed, question-answer session

<p>In his opening remarks, Greenblatt acknowledged the tense atmosphere on campus, referencing the violent threats that Brown-RISD Hillel leaders received Feb. 11.</p>

In his opening remarks, Greenblatt acknowledged the tense atmosphere on campus, referencing the violent threats that Brown-RISD Hillel leaders received Feb. 11.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, spoke Thursday evening at an event sponsored by the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. The event was followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller. Partway through his prepared remarks, dozens of students stood up and walked out of the Salomon Center room where the event was held.

Greenblatt’s invitation sparked controversy among Brown’s students and faculty, The Herald previously reported.

In the hour leading up to the talk, a group of students waited outside the Salomon Center and offered event attendees yellow ribbons to express solidarity with the hostages captured in Hamas’s attacks. Representatives from the Graduate Labor Organization — which announced recently that it would push for the University to pass a resolution to divest from “companies complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine” — handed out flyers that encouraged divestment and urged readers to “drop the ADL.”

The ADL is an advocacy group established to fight antisemitism and discrimination. Some have condemned the organization for adopting what critics say is an overly broad definition of antisemitism, and for an alleged history of racism against Palestinians. Greenblatt denounced anti-Muslim hate at the event.


Before introducing Greenblatt, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sylvia Carey-Butler commented on recent concerns about the CEO’s presence on campus.

“I understand the concerns and emotions that Mr. Greenblatt’s invitation has stirred among this community,” she said before quoting theologian Timothy Keller: “Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.”

Carey-Butler noted that the OIED originally invited Greenblatt to speak in September and emphasized the University’s commitment to being a “marketplace of ideas where divergent beliefs can coexist.”

“We are not endorsing a single viewpoint,” she added.

In his opening remarks, Greenblatt acknowledged the tense atmosphere on campus, referencing the violent threats that Brown-RISD Hillel leaders received Feb. 11. He then mentioned research conducted by the ADL which found that antisemitic incidents have increased 360% after Oct. 7.

“Let me be clear, anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” Greenblatt said in his remarks. “Anti-Zionism does not mean having a problem with a set of actions by the Israeli government.”

According to Greenblatt, anti-Zionism “means that Jews don’t have the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.”

At this, many students in the audience, some wearing keffiyehs or carrying signs reading “Divest Now,” began to stand up in silence. Others held up pieces of paper that read “Anti-Zionism ≠ Antisemitism” before beginning to file out of the auditorium.

“Disruption is an infringement upon the rights of others, in violation of policy, and must stop,” Carey-Butler announced as the walkout continued. “If it continues, individuals will be referred to the appropriate office.”

“I would ask you please not to respond,” she added as some audience members began to react to those walking out.


“If hypocrisy is your operating model, you should come to hear a speaker and then walk out,” Greenblatt said once the protesting students had left the room. “But if learning is your intent, you should come to hear a speaker and maybe, just maybe, listen.”

Greenblatt then continued with his remarks and reiterated his condemnation of antisemitic incidents, especially at high education institutions.

“Does anyone think sending death threats to Rabbi Bolton and his staff somehow advances the cause of the Palestinian state? Or that screaming down President Paxson at a vigil actually satisfies any calls for justice?” Greenblatt said.

Last November, during a vigil for Hisham Awartani ’25 — one of the three victims injured in the Vermont shooting that month — President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 cut her remarks short as students shouted for divestment, The Herald previously reported.

Get The Herald delivered to your inbox daily.

Greenblatt referenced instances of antisemitic conduct at schools including The Cooper Union, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and The Ohio State University.

“ADL will join other Jewish organizations in unapologetically calling for Hamas to return all the hostages they violently seized, to immediately lay down their arms … and to call for a negotiated peace agreement with Israel,” Greenblatt said. “That’s how you get your ceasefire.”

Greenblatt ended his remarks by encouraging Jewish students to “stand strong” and touching on Awartani’s shooting, which he called a “terrible tragedy.”

“Muslim students and Muslims throughout America deserve dignity and respect, just like their Jewish classmates and fellow citizens,” he said. “ADL has been fighting anti-Muslim hate for years … Ultimately, we are in this fight together.”

The event then moved into the question-and-answer portion, where Schiller posed questions — some her own, some submitted by the audience.

One of Schiller’s questions concerned people who identify as Jewish but don’t support “a Jewish state in Israel.” “Do you relegate that Jewish person to … a permanent diaspora from their faith or their community?” Schiller asked. 

Greenblatt acknowledged that some Jewish people have these views, adding that in his opinion, a “yearning for Israel” is part of “the Jewish faith, tradition, ritual, culture and civilization.”

He asserted that the “handful of” Jewish people who are not Zionists are not representative of the vast majority of Jewish people in America, drawing a comparison to conservative political commentator Candace Owens, who he said “does not represent the vast majority of African-Americans in this country.”

But Greenblatt emphasized that criticizing the Israeli government’s actions does not constitute anti-Zionism.

“My Zionism compels me to criticize Israeli policies. My Zionism compels me to mourn a Brown student shot in Burlington because he’s wearing a keffiyeh,” he said. The shooting is under active investigation as a potential hate crime.

Schiller finished the Q&A with a question from an audience member asking for Greenblatt’s personal view on how to resolve the Palestinian question. Greenblatt expressed his support for a “two-state solution.”

Benjamin Eden ’24 attended the talk and was among the students who stayed until the end.

“Given the climate on campus, I thought it was important … to show support” for Greenblatt, Eden said. “I was really hoping that the people who walked out would have stuck around.”

Anisha Kumar

Anisha Kumar is a section editor covering University Hall. She is a sophomore from Menlo Park, California concentrating in English and Political Science who loves speed-crosswording and rewatching sitcoms.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.