In 2010, the ADL released a statement supporting efforts to ban construction of a mosque and Islamic community center in south Manhattan, claiming it was allegedly insensitive to the victims of 9/11. It was a grotesque incident of ADL-approved religious discrimination, and has been a stain on the organization's legacy ever since.
Today, ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt has officially apologized for his organization's stance: "we were wrong, plain and simple."
This was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do one day after the ADL's discriminatory foray into the controversy, but it's never too late to do the right thing. Indeed, it perhaps would have been easy to simply try and forget this ever happened -- let it recede into the background, a bit of embarrassing old news under the ancien régime, but never bring it up again. Yet the ADL decided -- mostly, it seems, of its own accord -- to raise it again (and open themselves up to a wave of "too lates" and "whatabouts..." and this that and the other) by way of apology. That's worthwhile, and worthy of praise.
So -- well done, ADL.
Two notes though:
1) Acknowledging one's wrong and apologizing for it is an important part of teshuvah. Another part, at least if not more essential, is reflecting on what led you astray in the first place so that you don't do it again. I hope the ADL, in recognizing that it was "wrong, plain and simple," is thinking internally about what made it go wrong, and reflecting on what it needs to alter about it self to ensure that it never again indulges naked bigotry again.
2) How many other civil rights organizations can you think of that have released a statement like this, on any topic, admitting any mistake? Surely, the ADL is not the only one that has made errors deserving repentance. But I struggle to think of another prominent organization actually taking ownership of its wrong (at least, a wrong committed with recent memory). It is a dangerous fact about contemporary discourse that we often treat those who apologize for their wrongs worse than those who brashly ignore them and carry forward. This is something we should not do, and before anyone crows about the ADL being so terrible it had to apologize, think about what it says about all the other organizations out there, who have had their own indulgences into racism or antisemitism or misogyny or Islamophobia, who maintain a studious silence -- hoping everyone forgets, hoping it recedes from memory as "old news".