By all rights, this should be the end of the Anti-Defamation League.
If it ever had a modicum of respectability as an organization that defended civil and human rights—even if it erred, repeatedly in overzealous defense of Israel—the ADL’s despicable intervention in the fight over the construction of a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan ought to deprive the ADL of its last shred of that respectability.
Thankfully, the powers-that-be in New York City, including Mayor Bloomberg, have slapped down the ADL and its right-wing, Republican allies, giving the green light to the mosque, despite the crass and un-American opposition to it from Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and a host of GOP hacks.
Let’s start with the ADL’s July 28 statement, in case you haven’t actually read what the organization said. Pompously portraying itself as concerned about the "pain" of victims of the 9/11 attack, the ADL declared:
We believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.
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. 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.
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.
But in raising illegitimate and unsubstantiated “questions” about the mosque, the ADL itself makes ugly, McCarthyite charges about "connections," about "who is providing the funding," about "ideologies," all of which are profoundly disturbing innuendo.
Yesterday, a city panel approved the plan, despite the opposition from a panoply of anti-Muslim bigots, politicians on the make, and outright kooks such as Pat Robertson. The New York Times, in an editorial, approved the go-ahead, saying:
It was not surprising that Republican ideologues like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin came out against the mosque. A Congressional candidate in North Carolina has found it to be a good way to get attention and, yes, stoke prejudice against Muslims. We expect this sort of behavior from these kinds of Republicans. They have been shamelessly playing the politics of fear since 9/11.
And a Washington Post editorial added:
Many of the protests used the murderous actions of 19 Muslim fanatics on that awful day to smear the entire religion of Islam. To succumb to that kind of bigotry would be to give in to the extremists who want to finish what those hijackers started.
A number of strong, even lock-step supporters of Israel, even when its wrong, say that the ADL’s anti-mosque rabble-rousing is too much, including Peter Beinart and Jonathan Chait, along with Andrew Sullivan. Many, many others, such as Paul Krugman (who called the ADL’s position "shameful—and stupid" ) have weighed in, too. And Ha’aretz, the liberal Israeli daily newspaper, took note of the ADL controversy and its leader, Abe Foxman, thusly:
Foxman’s words drew a wave of furious criticism in New York. Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, responded "The ADL should be ashamed of itself."
Referring to the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who is behind the plan to build the mosque, Kula said "Here, we ask the moderate leaders of the Muslim community to step forward, and when one of them does, he is treated with suspicion."
Normally, I’m not a big supporter of projects to build mosques, or, for that matter, churches and synagogues, either. The world has enough of them, and the fewer places people have to pray, the better, as far as I’m concerned. But the New York controversy is about politics, not religion. And it’s worrying, even as the trauma of 9/11 begins to heal, that there are politicians and organizations such as the ADL who keep trying to stoke the fears, paranoia and prejudices that flared up in 2001.