One-Week Workshops
view counter
Fallout Continues Over Ground Zero Mosque
TV host returns award to ADL; Wiesenthal Center rabbi says Islamic center's location is "insensitive" as plans move forward.
Assistant Managing Editor
Photo Galleria: 


The Anti-Defamation League continued to weather harsh public reaction to its position against the Islamic cultural center to be built near the site of the 9/11 attack this week.

CNN host and Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, citing the group's mosque position returned the Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize that was bestowed on him by the ADL in 2005, along with the $10,000 prize, saying “I cannot in good conscience hold onto the award or the honorarium that came with it and am returning both.”

In another development, the leader of the Cordoba Initiative, which is planning the center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been selected by the U.S. State Department to travel to Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the perception of Islam in America. The State Department said he will be prohibited from fundraising during the trip.

But two Republican lawyers blasted the government's funding of the trip.  “It is unacceptable that US taxpayers are being forced to fund Feisal Abdul Rauf’s trip to the Middle East,” said Reps. leana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Peter King  of Long Island in a joint statement on Tuesday. “This radical is a terrible choice to be one of the faces or our country overseas."

Imam Rauf has been criticized for declining to characterize Hamas as a terrorist group when asked during a radio interview. His wife, Daisy Khan, last week told the Wall Street Journal that the group commits “atrocious acts of terror.” The imam has also been criticized for saying after 9-11 in a TV interview that because of American foreign policy, "“n the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA."

The ADL said on its website on July 30 that building the cultural center at the site purchased by the Cordoba Initiative on Park Place two blocks from Ground Zero would be “counterproductive to the healing process” and that it would be in the best interests of New York City for an alternative location to be found.

The statement did not call for action to stop the center, but said, “There are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site. We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel ”

In response to the ADL,  a group of 51 diverse Jews, including cantors, filmmakers, lawyers, authors and musicians, posted an open letter in the Huffington Post . In a New York Times interview, ADL national director Abraham Foxman had said that the sensitivities of families of 9/11 victims should take precedence because “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

“We can relate to these ‘irrational feelings,” wrote the authors on Aug. 3. “Many of our families lost members to the Holocaust. And yet we believe that your position on the Cordoba House is wrong and that it goes against the ADL’s description of itself as an organization that fights “all forms of bigotry.” Signers included filmmakers Sandi Dubowsky and Julie Hermelin, Rabbi David Adelson of the East Side Temple, and authors Charles London and Stephen Elliot. 

New York City cleared the way for the $100 million center, which is to have meeting, educational and athletic facilities in addition to a mosque, last week when the Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to protect the 152-year-old building. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ardently defended the Cordoba Initiative's right to build the center on grounds of religious freedom.

The American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Community Relations Council each issued statements last week supporting the center but calling on the organizers to make a clear statement against terrorism and to be transparent about the project’s funding sources.

But the executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Manhattan, Rabbi Meyer May said on Thursday it was "insensitive" to build the center near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Religious freedom does not mean being insensitive ... or an idiot,” Rabbi May told Crain’s New York Business, which reported the organization’s position on Friday. “Religion is supposed to be beautiful. Why create pain in the name of religion?”

Rabbi May said the view of The Simon Wiesenthal Center is not necessarily that of the Museum of Tolerance.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center told The Jewish Week Tuesday the center’s position is that the victims’ families should be given “paramount” consideration.

“The decision should be based on a consensus of the families of victims of what was obviously the site of the worst killing field in America,” said Rabbi Cooper. “Their feelings should be paramount in everybody’s mind The families should be the ones who inform us, not the other way around.”

In a statement sent to The Jewish Week, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf expressed gratitude to members of the Jewish community who have supported the center. The imam, who has participated in interfaith programs with Jewish groups, cited a “history” of cooperation between Jews and Muslims.

“I express my heartfelt appreciation for the gestures of goodwill and support from our Jewish friends and colleagues,” read the statement.

“Your support is a reflection of the great history of mutual cooperation and understanding that Jewish and Muslim civilizations have shared in the past, and remains a testament to the enduring success of our continuing dialogue.”

In his letter to the ADL, Zakaria, a Muslim born in Mumbai, India, said he hoped his rejection of the Humphrey prize “might add to the many voices that have urged you to reconsider and reverse your position on this issue.

“Whether or not the center is built, what is at stake here is the integrity of the ADL and its fidelity to its mission.”

In response, Foxman released an open letter to Zakaria saying “I am not only saddened but stunned and somewhat speechless by your decision … We did not oppose the right for an Islamic Center or a mosque to be built. What we did was to make an appeal based solely on the issues of location and sensitivity.

Foxman added, “ADL has and will continue to stand up for Muslims and others where they are targets of racism and bigotry.

JTA contributed to this report.


Last Update:

08/23/2010 - 22:06
American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Fareed Zakaria, Ground Zero Mosque, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, New York, Simon Wiesenthal Center
The Jewish Week App -- Now Available!
view counter


The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

This situation is complex and I don't believe that governing principles apply only to one side of the equation. This is not just an "emotional" issue. There are consequences to be considered either way. Any honorable and knowledgeable Imam would certainly know to not fuel Radical Islamic fervor and feelings of triumph over the West which would inevitably happen, with the erection of a grande structure containing a Mosque, next to the virtual burial site of murdered Americans at the hands of Radical Islam, at Ground Zero. There is a long standing tradition among the warring element of Islam to erect Monuments of Conquest at the site of their enemies' defeat. To allow that at Ground Zero would embolden the Radicals and encourage them to persist with their Jihad. We know for a fact that radical Islamists rejoiced at the event of 9/11 and we know without a doubt that if this Mosque is erected by the Ground Zero site that radical Islamists will once again rejoice on the date of its completion, on none other than 9/11! When the families of the perished and Americans at large will see the celebration of the Radicals on that day and the reference to their Monument of Conquest in the media and on the internet from that day forward, it will be a constant symbol of hurt to them and the American people. The fact that Imam Raul and the team of the Mosque developers do not want to take this into consideration unquestionably casts this whole project in a negative light. The rational of its proximity to "build bridges between East and West" is a canard because if the majority of Americans are not positively oriented, rightly or wrongly, to this Mosque and "bridge builder", the continued pursuit of the erection of the Mosque can not be in good faith and it should not be foisted upon the American people and the families of the perished. Furthermore, reasonable Muslims will understand that America freely tolerates all religions but objects to the erection of a Mosque next to our virtual grave site at Ground Zero, which would serve as a symbol to the radicals of their Jihad. The constitutional rights that we have, such as freedom of religion or freedom of commerce, are not absolutes. Local ordinances and community standards determine whether a property or activity is appropriate for a given locality. Political commentator, Noel Nikpour gives the example; "you wouldn't allow a liquor store to be built next to a Betty Ford Clinic or a strip joint next to Disney world". Likewise it is not useful to discuss this matter of the Mosque with broad generalities of constitutional rights without specific applications to local conditions and community standards. The proximity of the Mosque to Ground Zero and its concomitant symbolism to Radical Islam of being a Monument of Conquest is undeniable and the feelings of hurt to the community of Ground Zero render such a project not in keeping with the harmony and community standards to merit the permit to build it. Resident of NY city
let me try to post this one more time. Hopefully, a more lenient censor is on duty today... What a fascinating article -- revealing as it does the others' perceptions of the American Jewry! Mr. Zakaria clearly expected any Jewish organization to offer a reflexive, knee-jerk approval of the Ground Zero mosque (it being a "progressive," goody-goody thing, so well fitting with the American Jews who are a "progressive," goody-goody community) -- else he would not have been so utterly shocked when, for a change, ADL's reaction was based on common sense, not on "progressivism" just for a sake of being "progressive" ADL's sensible reaction to the mosque project (along with its rebuff, a couple of months ago, of Obama's Israel-bashing) is an encouraging sign. One hopes that the American Jewish community started moving away from its reflexive, follow-in-the-"progressive"- rut attitude, and is beginning to take realities, rather than the never-never, rose-colored visions, into account -- an approach yours truly advocated in 'They Vote for Us Anyway' at Hopefully, Mr. Zakaria's indignation is indeed an indicator that American Jews are beginning to wake up from their "progressive" trance...
I just hope all of the supporters of this travesty will enjoy hearing the call to Muslim prayer five times a day! This imam, naming the center "Cordoba" is telling us all what his objective is - a caliphate which all the liberal Jews refuse to recognize. Our freedoms are being taken advantage of and if we don't see what is happening in our country and begin taking steps to counter this invasion, we will live to see a Muslim country here in America. Why is it that Muslims can take over Manhattan streets for prayer and a Christian creche at Christmas time is not allowed? Ask the people of Dearborn, MI how they feel about their city now that they are in the minority. Or ask the citizens of Malmo, Sweden, how they feel that all the Jews have left there because it was no longer safe for them to live there. PEOPLE, WAKE UP!!!!! We are dealing with people who are taught, indeed encouraged to LIE to get what they want. If you believe this mosque is being built as a cultural center, you are so duped.
I truly wish any discussion of the Holocaust would not be brought into this discussuion. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg
Oh come on ! How about the sensitivity of Palestinians, legally the sons of the land, when their holy city is gradually cordoned off for them ? Is living together not possible ? The usual pretext - it is better than in most other Islamic countries. But, tell me, who gives arms to Saudi, Pakistan or Egypt, and who support their dictators ?

view counter