The Anti-Defamation League’s national director has criticised opponents of the Ground Zero mosque for using it to justify scare tactics and as an excuse for “outrageous comments about Islam”.
Abraham Foxman, who has previously said the mosque and Islamic centre should be built elsewhere, warned that the controversy was being exploited by some “to demonise Muslims”.
But writing on the Huffington Post website he also said that supporters are wrong to label their opponents as bigoted.
Despite his stance on the plan Mr Foxman criticised the fact that “an issue that should have been handled in a sensitive manner has become a political football,” pointing to a preacher who last week described Islam as “a religion of hatred”.
He added: “This kind of bigotry and stereotyping against a great world religion is contrary to everything that America stands for.
“We hope that all Americans, whatever their legitimate differences of opinion on the wisdom of building a mosque abutting Ground Zero, will reject this.
“A healthy democracy requires a public space where people can disagree without turning it into a war.”
The “Cordoba Initiative”, which has the support of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and prominent Jewish lawyer Alan Dershowitz, has divided American Jewish groups.
Last month 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."
Earlier this month Daisy Khan, wife of the imam behind the plan, likened opposition to it to antisemitism .
The construction of the mosque is expected to cost more than £60 million.