Alex Constantine - October 28, 2010
By Morgan Strong
The Consortium | October 25, 2010
For decades, the Anti-Defamation League was a respected voice against anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. However, over the past several decades, especially under the leadership of Abraham Foxman, the ADL has transformed itself into an advocacy group on behalf of Israeli government policies, even feeding anti-Islamic prejudices.
That new role was underscored by Foxman’s statement last week when he attacked the idea of the international community granting Palestinians recognition as a sovereign people. Foxman told the New York Times that the initiative was "part of the delegitimization campaign against Israel" and must be thwarted.
Foxman, in Israel to confer with Israeli leaders, demanded that the Obama administration block any international "declaration of a preemptive state" for the Palestinians. He justified this denial of a basic human aspiration as necessary to promote peace in the Middle East.
"All the exit doors have to be closed for the Palestinians so they have no choice but to negotiate," said Foxman, who has led the near-century-old ADL since 1987.
But Foxman’s argument turned reality on its head, since it has been the Israeli refusal to suspend West Bank settlements and Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new demand that Palestinian officials recognize Israel exclusively as a “Jewish state” that have stalled the latest peace talks, not Palestinian intransigence.
But word games have been part of Foxman’s approach for years as he has manipulated language to bridge the ever-widening gap between ADL’s traditional role as a voice against bigotry and its new role as a voice for Likud’s interests in the United States, even if that means fanning the flames of anti-Muslim hatreds.
Earlier this year, Foxman shocked some longtime ADL supporters by lending cover and legitimacy to the hysteria over a planned Islamic community center to be located two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, which Islamic terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
Foxman couched ADL’s opposition to the Córdoba community center in reassuring words about tolerance and healing. He accepted the right of Muslims to build wherever they liked but called the community center’s location near “Ground Zero” hurtful to families of the victims.
“We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry,” the ADL statement said. ”However, 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 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.”
Yet, even in as Foxman cloaked the ADL’s opposition in reluctant tones, he took the side of anti-Islamic activists and politicians who have demanded government investigations into who is contributing to the construction of the Islamic center.
“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 ADL statement said.
“These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.”
While a call for transparency may seem reasonable, the demand in this case carries with it the certainty of retaliation against contributors, as Foxman well knows. In other words, ADL’s position is just another maneuver to block the community center by allowing bigots to harass its donors and engage in guilt by association.
Foxman further enflamed the debate by going on HuffingtonPost and comparing the building of the Islamic community center near Ground Zero with the construction of a Catholic convent next to the Auschwitz death camps.
“The lessons of an earlier and different controversy echo in this one,” Foxman wrote. “In 1993, Pope John Paul II asked 14 Carmelite Nuns to move their convent from just outside the Auschwitz death camp.
“The establishment of the convent near Auschwitz had stirred dismay among Jewish groups and survivors who felt that the location was an affront and a terrible disservice to the memory of millions of Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis in the Holocaust.
“Just as we thought then that well-meaning efforts by Carmelite nuns to build a Catholic structure were insensitive and counterproductive to reconciliation, so too we believe it will be with building a mosque so close to Ground Zero.”
Yet, as tragic as the 9/11 attack was, with some 3,000 people killed, it doesn’t compare with the Holocaust in which an estimated six million Jews were exterminated. Indeed, if a similar comparison were made in a different context, Foxman would surely join in condemning the offending party for trivializing the Holocaust and engaging in implicit anti-Semitism.
Foxman’s comment also ignores the fact that the Vatican shared guilt for the Holocaust through its tolerance of the fascist dictatorships in Europe and its public silence during the Jewish extermination campaign.
By contrast, the organizers of the Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan had no complicity in the 9/11 attacks and have loudly denounced al-Qaeda's Islamic extremism. Linking the two cases is not only offensive but unfair, an implicit attempt to associate the builders of the community center with both 9/11 and one of the worst crimes in world history.
Shock and Dismay
Responding to the ADL statement opposing the Córdoba center, Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, a pro-peace and pro-Israeli lobbying group, said the American Jewish community should be in the forefront of defending religious freedom “rather than casting aspersions on [the community center’s] funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.”
Rev. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group for religious tolerance, said he read the ADL statement “with a great deal of sorrow.”
Defenders of the community center – named for Córdoba, a Spanish city known for its religious tolerance – note that the building’s location is not even that close to Ground Zero, at least two long city blocks away and not within view. It is not a mosque and would not remotely resemble one. There are no minarets, no Mizzen’s calls to prayer, and no Jihadist clerics broadcasting vitriol out into the streets of New York.
The center would have only a prayer room, which could be used by people of various religions including Jews and Christians. The prayer room would be located on two levels in the basement.
Despite its opponents labeling the building “the Ground Zero Mosque,” the site would be more a cultural center, a meeting place and a sports center.
The largest part of the building – four of the 16 floors – would be taken up by a sports, fitness and swimming facility. Another full floor would be devoted to a child-care center and playground. Much of the rest of the building would be occupied by a restaurant, culinary school, artist studios, exhibition space and an auditorium for cultural events.
A Different Approach
An irony of Foxman’s opposition to the Islamic community center is that while he has given cover to anti-Islamic bigots fighting its construction, Muslims in the Middle East – even militant opponents of Israel – have lent their support to the reconstruction of a historic Jewish synagogue in Lebanon.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in August that Beirut’s Maghen Abraham Synagogue, which was damaged during warfare that ripped apart Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s, was being rebuilt with funds donated by the local community.
The donations include money from Hezbollah, the fundamentalist Islamic group that fought Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said his group has no quarrel with Judaism, only with the state of Israel, which invaded Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, killing thousands of Lebanese and destroying much of the country’s civilian infrastructure.
It is ironic indeed when Hezbollah speaks and acts in defense of religious tolerance and the ADL puts itself in the company of religious bigots.
Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern history, and was an advisor to CBS News “60 Minutes” on the Middle East.