Shame on ADL for opposing Mosque 2 blocks from Ground Zero

Rabbi Michael Lerner

Posted Aug 3, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Shame on ADL for opposing Mosque 2 blocks from Ground Zero

by Rabbi Michael Lerner

The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) publicly opposes the construction two blocks from Ground Zero of the Cordoba House (also known as Park 51), which the planners imagine as hosting a range of activities similar to those offered at the 92nd Street Y, and including a Mosque at which Muslims could worship. The plan, supported by Mayor Bloomberg, is opposed by some who have consistently used the attack on the World Trade Center as justification for war and fear+hatred of Muslims.

ADL leader Abe Foxman presented the position of this organization that claims to oppose discrimination by reading a formal statement that seemed to be a perfect example of “shooting and crying” (first you attack brutally, then you cry about how sad it is to be put into this difficult position, often blaming the victims for having “forced” us to attack them). The key to that statement was this:

  “Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. 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.”

This kind of argument is deeply mistaken. It was not “Muslims” or Islam that attacked the World Trade Center, but some Muslims who held extreme versions of Islam and twisted what is a holy and peace-oriented tradition to justify their acts and their hatred. We see the same thing happening in the name of Christianity (many of those who justified the war in Iraq were Christians who felt they were acting from a Christian ethical perspective) or in the name of Judaism (the immoral behavior of some of the settlers who use Judaism as their cover for stealing land and destroying the olive trees of their Palestinian neighbors).  Just as we would rebel against others dismissing Judaism or Christianity, or prohibiting Jews and Muslims from constructing our holy places of worship or community centers where we wish because some of those who had suffered from the immorality of some Jews or some Christians had decided that it was painful to them to see the presence of these institutions near the site of previous suffering, so we reject this claim.

Arthur Waskow asks us to imagine how we would feel if some group of Muslims in the US, identifying with the suffering of Palestinians, and including within them some who had lived in Israel and had to leave to protect themselves from the oppression of Occupation that they labeled as “Jewish oppression,” had opposed the construction of a synagogue in their predominantly Muslim neighborhood because it would cause some of the victims of Israeli policy to experience more pain. Would we accept that? Certainly not.

Underlying the ADL position is its references to the Holocaust and the need to respect the feelings of its survivors. Sadly, the memory of Jewish suffering is appropriated by right-wing forces to justify special privilege for Jews in general and Israel in particular, now is to be extended to victims of 9/11 (but not, for example, to the survivors of US military assaults on civilians in Vietnam,Cambodia, Laos, El Salvador, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Iraq, or Afghanistan). The aggression of others is always evil, ours always justifiable, to the political right. That’s bad enough. But shame on ADL in particular for now using our suffering in the Holocaust to justify discrimination toward others, whether in Israel or in the U.S.

Actually, to those of us who take seriously the Torah command to “love the stranger” (the Other), it seems clear that the rebuilding of Ground Zero should include the construction of an interfaith center in which all of the world’s religions could be represented, particularly that of Islam as a way of affirming and supporting those many Muslims who do not adopt an extreme anti-American or anti-Jewish perspective.

The American Jewish Committee tried to adopt a more nuanced position, but wanted to withhold endorsement till they can establish that the source of money for this building did not come from extremist elements in the Muslim world. Yet how would we feel if construction of a Jewish center was similarly conditional? Would money from those who support the settlers or others who believe that Jews have a right to all of the Biblical Land of Israel and have a right to use violence to achieve that end be sufficient reason to prevent the construciton of a Jewish center? Would a Church that received money from sources in the Christian community that believed it appropriate to engage in violence to create the world they wanted (e.g. to support a US military intervention in Iran) be sufficient reason to deny them the right to build their Christian center? I don’t think so.

No wonder, then, that we at Tikkun—seeking to build a world in which animosities among religions can be dramatically reduced so that all of us can recognize our common humanity (or what we Jews call “being created in the image of God”) and recognize the immediate global environmental emergency to overcome national and religious antagonisms so that we can work together to save the planet and its peoples from destruction—strongly endorse and support the construction of the Muslim community center/mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero.

Shame on ADL and the American Jewish Committee for not understanding the moral imperatives of this moment! They not only betray Jewish values (“do not do unto others what you would not wish them to do to you”) and American values (government should not interfere with the operations of religious communities), they unintentionally but nevertheless certainly increase the tensions between Jews and Muslims at a moment when all sane people in both communities recognize the need to build bridges of understanding, friendship and mutual caring as a prelude to supporting peace in Israel. Given that both ADL and the AJCommittee have consistently supported the most outrageous actions of the Israeli government toward Palestinians, is it possible that unconsciously they are taking these kinds of stands because they do not see the supreme importance of creating caring and sensitivity to the needs of the other?  Yet it is this sensitivity which is the necessary prerequisite for a lasting peace with justice and security for both sides in the Middle East conflict. And that peace would be a major step toward undermining the support that terrorists have been able to amass,  in part because such a peace is absent.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in Berkeley, Ca. and author of eleven books, most recently the national best-seller The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country From the Religious Right.  If you wish to support this kind of thinking, please join our Network of Spiritual Progressives at