Outrage Over Anti-Defamation League's Position on Ground Zero Mosque

An outpouring of commentary from liberals and critics

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Last Wednesday, Jewish civil-rights organization the Anti-Defamation League came out against the proposed mosque and Islamic center in the Ground Zero area of Manhattan. The complex statement contained what many critics feel to be contradictory positions. "We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy," the statement reads. "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." Nevertheless, they are against the project:

[T]here are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site ... The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process ... [U]nder these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found ... 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 ... 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.

Liberals, including some accustomed to being on the same side as the Anti-Defamation League when it comes to Israel, have more or less reacted with outrage. For now, at least, many conservative bloggers who are skeptical about the proposed mosque have been much less vocal on this particular statement, with many entirely silent. Here's the Wire's guide to the tremendous outpouring of opinion on the subject, organized into rough categories.

  • ADL: This Is Bigoted, But We Support It Anyway? The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg decides that, "if [he is reading] the press release correctly ... the ADL is opposing the building of the mosque because bigots also oppose it." Matt Yglesias at Think Progress says the statement "condemns the anti-Muslim bigotry fueling the mosque's opponents while endorsing their policy objectives." Steve Benen calls the declaration "genuinely incoherent":
What the Anti-Defamation League is arguing is that the sensitivities of bigots are more important than the religious liberty of American Muslims. The ADL believes faith communities should be free to build buildings, unless it might bother those who hate those faith communities.
  • The Way Constitutional Rights Work: They Apply to Everyone  "[T]he bottom-line," writes Jed Lewison at Daily Kos, "is that you can't put an asterisk next to tolerance." Echoing others in calling the ADL statement "painful and tortured," Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo seems to agree, summarizing the statement  thus: "We believe in freedom of religion. They have every right to build there. But just this one time, let's make an exception." The American Prospect's Adam Serwer casts it in slightly different terms: "I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone." Meanwhile, the president of Jewish organization J Street releases the following counter-statement:
The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion. Should one religious group in this country be treated differently than another? We believe the answer is no.
  • And Apply Regardless of Emotions  Victims, writes The Guardian's Michael Tomasky, "are entitled to their irrational hatreds. What they're not entitled to is for those hatreds to become the basis of policy and to override the principles in the Constitution and the law." Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars states it in a more categorical fashion: "Sublimating the clear rights of individuals to the emotional reaction of others would destroy the very nature of rights." Asks Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast: "What if white victims of African-American crime protested the building of a black church in their neighborhood? Or gentile victims of Bernie Madoff protested the building of a synagogue?"
  • This Is Completely Counter to the ADL's Stated Purpose  "Founded in 1913," writes Marc Tracy at Jewish magazine Tablet, "the ADL, in its words, 'fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.' Except when it does the precise opposite." Jonathan Chait at The New Republic agrees: "The Anti-Defamation League, the chief Jewish civil rights organization, has a long, proud history ... But this is such a fundamental violation of the ADL's principles that the group is no longer supportable." Meanwhile, Time's Joe Klein argues that "[t]he tragedy here is that the Islamic Center is precisely the sort of institution that the Anti-Defamation league traditionally supported," resembling Jewish community centers and YMCAs. Kelin thinks the ADL has "sullied American Judaism's intense tradition of tolerance and inclusion.  I miss the old ADL," he writes, "and so does America."
  • And a Terrible Idea for the War on Terror  "This is a strange war we're fighting against Islamist terrorism," muses The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. "We must fight the terrorists with alacrity, but at the same time we must understand that what the terrorists seek is a clash of civilizations ... If we as a society punish Muslims of good faith," he continues, as the ADL appears to be attempting in his mind, "Muslims of good faith will join the other side ... I'm disappointed that the ADL doesn't understand this." Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell concurs: "What's particularly tragic about all this is that the people behind the so-called Ground Zero mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, are precisely the moderate Muslims that everyone recognizes are an important bulwark against extremism." The statement out of J Street is more pointed: "What better ammunition to feed the Osama bin Ladens of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States... "
  • Only from a Staunchly Liberal Viewpoint, retorts Jennifer Rubin at conservative Commentary magazine. "This is daft," she says of the J Street counterstatement. "We are going to annoy Osama bin Laden if we don't let them have the mosque steps from where his followers incinerated 3,000 Americans?"
  • A Moment of Sympathy for Those Opposing the Mosque  William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection discusses "the reality that regardless of the motivations of the individuals who will visit the Mosque, al-Qaeda and Islamists will portray the Mosque complex as the final conquest of The World Trade Center. The thought of Adam Ghadan, or Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Osama bin Laden issuing a video or audiotape crowing about the ultimate victory, is too much for most Americans of all religions to bear." Thus, while Jacobson says the mosque must be allowed, he thinks those behind it "should have picked a different location. Because respect is not a one-way street." Jonathan Cristol The American Interest, otherwise opposed to the ADL statement, says something similar: "That they have the right to build there and that it actually suits American foreign policy goals does not mean that the choice of location does contain a hint of provocation."
  • And There Are a Lot of Them  Vanity Fairy's James Wolcott strongly opposes the ADL position. Nevertheless, he writes, vocal critics notwithstanding, "I suspect ... the ADL has not overplayed its hand, proving the cover ... for other 'responsible' Jewish and non-Jewish community and business leaders to back away from the site and propose it be moved elsewhere, to facilitate healing the wounds of 9/11, which would at lot faster if haters and exploiters didn't keep salting the wounds." The Washington Post's Greg Sargent agrees on this last point, "The foes of this mosque whose opposition is rooted in bigotry are the ones who are trying to stoke victims' pain here, for transparent political purposes."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.