Jews and the mosque at Ground Zero

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Throughout his long career as head of the Anti Defamation League (ADL), Abe Foxman has earned a reputation for promoting liberal causes and speaking out against all forms of prejudice and hatred. Nobody would describe him as a conservative.

But today, the American left liberal establishment – with Jews at the forefront – has turned on him with a vengeance. He is being viciously assailed for betraying his Jewish values and even promoting Islamophobia.

The issue which sparked this hostility is a proposal to erect a $100 million high-rise mosque and Islamic Center adjacent to New York’s Ground Zero where 3000 people were killed by Islamic extremists. The sponsor is an Islamic organization known as Cordoba which purports to enhance relationships between Islam and the West and promote a moderate Muslim image. The director, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is not currently accessible and some allege that his image as a promoter of tolerance and bridge building is a facade and that he remains associated with Wahhabi teachings.

Critics substantiate this by relating to the Imam’s refusal to label groups like Hamas as terrorist organizations. They also cite a CBS interview held two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, which includes the following exchange:

Interviewer: “Are you in any way suggesting that we in the US deserve what happened?”

Feisal: “I wouldn’t say that the US deserves what happened but the US policies were an accessory to the crime that was committed.” 

Interviewer: “You say that we are an accessory. How?”  

Faisal: “Because we have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden was ‘made in the USA.'”

In addition, there have been evasive responses to requests to identify the source of funds, prompting the belief that the $100 million project was being provided from Saudi sources.

Although the project was endorsed by the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the grounds of religious freedom and supported by many liberals presenting it as an initiative designed to build bridges between American Muslims and the wider community, it has now exploded into a major political controversy.

Foxman was very cautious. He acknowledged that there was no legal limitation on constructing the mosque on the site and did not challenge the bona fides of the Cordoba organization. However, he said that “some legitimate questions have been raised” relating to funding and possible ties with “groups whose ideology stand in contradiction to our shared values… ultimately this is not a question of rights. It is a question of what is right.” Foxman concluded that “in our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.”

Foxman subsequently compared the proposed mosque at the Ground Zero location to the efforts by Roman Catholic Carmelite nuns to create a convent adjacent to the Auschwitz death camp. In the face of global Jewish protests and out of sensitivity to the victims, Pope John Paul ll justifiably ordered them not to proceed.

Other opponents were far harsher than Foxman in their criticism, suggesting that a mosque adjacent to Ground Zero would be an affront to those who perished at the hands of Islamic extremists. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that “the average American just thinks this is a political statement. It’s not about religion and is clearly an aggressive act that is offensive… and is at best an affront to the families of those who died there and at worst an act of aggression, that would, they say, mark the place where radical Islam achieved a blow against the United States.”

Opinion polls indicate that most Americans are strongly opposed to the project.

Not surprisingly, groups like J Street and even less radical liberal Jews hysterically condemned Foxman of defaming his Jewish heritage and behaving like a bigot. Time columnist Joe Klein, notorious for his frequent anti-Israeli outbursts, accused Foxman of having steered the ADL from being “a beacon of tolerance to a slightly potty geyser of toxic foolishness.”

I must confess that were I American, I would oppose such a construction on the same grounds that I would object to the erection of a mosque on a major site in which Israelis had been blown up by suicide bombers. Only an imbecile would accuse me of Islamophobia for harboring such views.

If the money for the mosque originates from Saudi Arabia, one would surely also be entitled to question the bona fides of those sponsoring the erection of such a mosque when their own country prohibits the presence of any church or synagogue. It will also add credence to views that the erection of a high rise building on such a site by Saudi elements is merely a façade for Islamic triumphalism.

One might also ask whether $100 million might not be better invested in educating Muslims against extremism and promoting tolerance towards Christians and Jews.

But even if we were to dismiss the principal arguments against the erection of a mosque in this location, only ignorant and insensitive leftists could challenge the bona fides of Abe Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, and deny that he is on the side of the angels when he says that if such a project creates pain to the families of the victims of this outrage, that should surely be sufficient grounds for not proceeding.

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This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post

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