The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement Friday against the building of a mosque near the World Trade Center memorial site. And on Monday, the American Jewish Committee entered the fray as well, saying the Cordoba Initiative's $100 million cultural center on Park Place "has “has a right to be built.” But the organization urged the founders of the center to "urgently address concerns about funding and support for terrorism."
The ADL's statement came as a surprise to much of the Jewish community, and was announced quietly on the organization's Web site and not through a press release. The civil rights group's national director, Abraham Foxman, said its national board decided to weigh on on the topic because ADL had been repeatedly asked its position on the matter after defending the Cordoba Initiative from what ADL considers to be a wave of anti-Islamic bigotry in response to the controversy.
"ADL has a position that we don't duck issues," said Foxman. "People were asking where we are."
The proposed construction of Cordoba House, a Muslim center at 45-47 Park Place, just two blocks form the former World Trade Center, has sparked a heated debate, and the ADL's statement that the center should be relocated out of sensitivity to victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks seems to have put pressure on other Jewish organizations to come off the fence.
AJC's executive director, David Harris, writing in the Huffington Post blog on Monday, said "We hope the Cordoba Center will fulfill the lofty mission its founders have articulated. They have set the bar high, describing it as a Muslim-inspired institution similar to the 92nd Street Y (a well-known Jewish community center in Manhattan.) If so, it means a facility truly open to the entire community – and to a wide spectrum of ideas based on peace and coexistence.
"Once up and running, it won’t be long before we know if the founders have delivered on their promise. If so, New York and America will be enriched. If not, the center should be shunned."
Supporters of the plan accuse opponents of bigotry, slamming them for equating all Muslims with the 9/11 terrorists.In its statement Friday opposing the plan, the ADL called the bigotry that has surrounded the decision “unfair and wrong” but nonetheless opposes the construction, it says, out of sensitivity to those who had family members killed on 9/11.
“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 – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001,” the statement reads.
“The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found." The ADL statement also evinces concern about the motivation behind the proposed mosque.
“In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values," the statement continued. "These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming. But regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one.”The ADL has in the past also opposed the construction of a convent at Auschwitz.
Foxman told The Jewish Week that part of the reason for the ADL's stance was concern about being consistent with its ardent opposition to the Carmelite Convent near Auschwitz in the mid-1980s, which was ultimately relocated by Pope John Paul. "We wanted the world to understand our position, now we have to understand theirs," he said.
The president of the Interfaith Alliance, Rev. Welton Gaddy, expressed his disappointment in the ADL’s statement, especially because it came from an organization that tries to protect civil liberties.
“Those who claim to defend religious freedom can not turn their back on it when faced with controversy,” he said. “It is unfair to prejudge the impact this center can have on reconciliation before it is even built. And we must remember that just because someone prays in a mosque, that does not make them any less of a citizen than you or I."