YAËL EISENSTAT, the head of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center for Technology and Society (CTS), is leaving the organization due to disagreement with the ADL CEO’s praise of Elon Musk, according to a current ADL staffer with knowledge of CTS-related decisions who requested anonymity to protect their job. Eisenstat’s decision to leave comes after three other staffers at CTS, which focuses on online expressions of hate speech, also quit due to disagreement with ADL leadership’s post-October 7th policies. In a LinkedIn announcement yesterday afternoon, Eisenstat—a former CIA officer and adviser to the Obama administration who rose to prominence as a top Facebook executive turned big tech critic—said that she was leaving the ADL for the research center Cybersecurity for Democracy, framing the move as an opportunity to return to elections-focused work in advance of a high-stakes presidential contest. An ADL spokesperson echoed this line in a statement to Jewish Currents, saying that Eisenstat “is departing to refocus all of her efforts on protecting democracy during the 2024 election season, which is something she would not be able to do at ADL.” But according to the current ADL staffer, it was CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s applause of Musk, the billionaire owner of X (formerly Twitter), that led to Eisenstat’s departure.
Despite Musk’s promotion of antisemitic and white nationalist sentiment, Greenblatt has repeatedly extolled the billionaire’s business prowess and, recently, his pledge to censor pro-Palestinian phrases on X. Internal critics say Greenblatt is especially willing to excuse Musk’s white nationalist sympathies if it helps the ADL fight anti-Zionism. In interviews with Jewish Currents, five current and former ADL employees—all of whom asked to remain anonymous to avoid professional consequences—discussed how this pattern has intensified since the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel and the continuing Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Former staffers told Jewish Currents that in the past months, Greenblatt has redirected the ADL’s day-to-day work to target pro-Palestine activism rather than focusing on antisemitism in American life, a shift they say seriously undermines the organization’s credibility.
Recent reports in Vice and The Daily Beast have confirmed that a significant number of current and former ADL employees are frustrated with this orientation, and specifically with Greenblatt’s public embrace of Musk, which many see as undermining the organization’s work. “There’s a pattern of Jonathan going rogue—belittling in-house experts and ignoring talking points prepared for him,” said a former ADL staffer. Under these circumstances, added the current ADL staffer, “it’s hard to see how Yaël [Eisenstat], a leading pro-democracy internet advocate, could maintain that reputation and influence if she had to continue to stay quiet and accept ADL’s endorsement of online censorship of anti-Israel critiques, not to mention the broader disregard of her advice and leadership.” The departure of Eisenstat is perhaps the most significant sign to date of the widespread staff discontent surrounding Greenblatt’s leadership, demonstrating, in the words of the former ADL staffer, that “there are a lot of people of all political stripes at ADL who believe what Jonathan is doing is reprehensible.”
“There are a lot of people of all political stripes at ADL who believe what Jonathan is doing is reprehensible.”
THE ADL FOUNDED the CTS in 2017 with the goal of creating a Silicon Valley-based hub to fight online expressions of antisemitism and other forms of identity-based discrimination. After originally focusing on building a machine learning tool that could help identify and moderate antisemitic content, the CTS shifted to researching online hate and advising tech companies on how they could better their hate speech policies. The group enjoyed influence in Silicon Valley thanks to the ADL’s prestige. “The weight of the ADL’s name behind things we did meant we could sit in on conversations with Google or Tik Tok, and it felt like they were actually listening to the things that we were saying,” said a second former ADL employee. “Sometimes that led to actual change in how they ran their platform.” In September 2022, the CTS hired Eisenstat, whom The Washington Post described as “one of the most prominent critics of how [Facebook] and its peers tackle hate speech and misinformation.” Bringing Eisenstat on further amplified the CTS’s reputation: “She brought a ton of experience and a ton of credibility, which I think really bolstered CTS,” said a third former staffer. At the ADL, according to a fourth former employee, Eisenstat was especially interested in reforming the Big Tech business model, which relies on outrageous content to spur engagement and deliver clicks to advertisers; specifically, she wanted to hold companies accountable for recommending harmful content.