Jewish groups differ over 9/11 mosque plan

By Jennifer Lipman, August 3, 2010
Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director has faced criticism for his stance

Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director has faced criticism for his stance

A row has broken out between rival American Jewish groups over the proposal to build a mosque and Islamic centre in Manhattan just metres from the site of the 9/11 attacks.

The plan by American Muslims to build a community centre by Ground Zero, where the World Trade Centre towers once stood, has the support of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and prominent Jewish lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

But “the Cordoba Initiative” has also been attracting outrage for several months from conservative groups and some of the families of victims of the terror attacks, as well as powerful Republicans including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.

And to the surprise of many, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish organisation which monitors antisemitism, has publically opposed the construction.

In a statement the ADL said: “It is ultimately ‘not a question of rights, but a question of what is right’."

“Building an Islamic centre in the shadow of the World Trade Centre will cause some victims more pain - unnecessarily - and that is not right.

“New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.”

But J Street, a group which calls itself “the new address for Middle East peace and security” has condemned the ADL for opposing the construction.

J Street’s head, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said the ADL should be defending the freedom religious minorities not “casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers."

Along with other Jewish and non-Jewish groups J Street has arranged a petition to stand up “for religious freedom in America and the City of New York.”

Marc Tracy, an editor for the online Jewish web magazine Tablet, noted : “The ADL, in its words, ‘fights antisemitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.’ Except when it does the precise opposite.”

A letter published on the website Jewcy from “a group of concerned Jews” urged the ADL to change its position or risk tarnishing its reputation.

The signatories said the Cordoba initiative has “done much to promote tolerance”.

They added: “This, we feel, is something to celebrate. We should welcome a Muslim leader who has worked hard to overcome hatred.

“Being less tolerant will not help us heal. Remember, there were Muslim victims on 9/11, too, Muslims that worked in the World Trade Center, or were part of the rescue crews that bravely entered the buildings that day.

“A fundamental principle of tolerance is at stake - one we look to the ADL to uphold.”

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, defended the organisation from these accusations of “bigotry”.

He wrote on a blog on the Huffington Post website:” To make this a test of whether one supports religious freedom or is stereotyping Muslims is to engage in demagoguery.

“Good people can differ as to what should happen, without falsely being accused of abandoning their principles.”

The Cordoba Initiative is expected to cost more than £60 million if it goes ahead.

Last updated: 12:08pm, August 30 2010