The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is the latest political player to publicly oppose the construction of Cordoba House, an Islamic center that is being planned in lower Manhattan, about two blocks from the World Trade Center site. ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman is quoted in the July 30 edition of the New York Times as stating that the Islamic endowment that owns the site needs to “find another place.” In its opposition, the famed Jewish advocacy group has joined the likes of Republican gubernatorial candidates Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino as well as national politicians like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. These public figures have denounced the construction of Cordoba House as an incendiary provocation against the memory of those who perished in the attacks of September 11, 2001.
It is most unfortunate, but not surprising, that the ADL, an organization that claims to fight bigotry wherever it exists, has now lent its considerable weight to the demagogic attempt to willfully distort the facts about this construction project. www.cordobainitiative.org/?q=content/cordoba-house-new-york-city This proposed complex will include an area for Muslim prayer as well as such amenities as a center for performing arts and a swimming pool. Judging from the construction plans, which have passed muster with both local community boards and New York City zoning laws, it would be fairly accurate to describe the center as a sort of Islamic YMCA. Moreover, the board of the Cordoba House would include members of the Christian and Jewish faiths.
This reality stands sharply at variance with the descriptions put forth by the complex’s opponents. They speak of a “mosque” being built “at” Ground Zero, in rhetoric that suggests minarets and bellowing muezzins beseeching the Islamic faithful to pray. As is plain to see from the complex’s blueprints, there is no “mosque” in any traditional sense of the word, but a prayer area that would approximate the function of a Christian chapel. Moreover, as Clyde Haberman of the Times has aptly remarked, there is a tremendous difference between building an Islamic center at Ground Zero and by Ground Zero. While nary a sane individual would support the former prepositional proposition, the planned center is not adjacent to the World Trade Center site, nor is it unduly provocative in either function or design.
Nevertheless, several “patriots,” some of whom just happen to be running for political office, have distorted the issue and provoked substantial public outrage against the Cordoba House endowment’s lawful exercise of its First Amendment right on private property in full compliance with all zoning regulations. This rhetoric is all in the alleged defense of the American way, of course. Rick Lazio, with meager campaign cash and even less to offer in the form of constructive ideas, has especially harped on this issue throughout his moribund campaign, even threatening to use eminent domain measures to seize the property if elected governor.
While the cynicism of a desperate politician hardly gives pause, the ADL’s opposition to the project represents a fundamental betrayal of its statement of purpose. According to its official site http://www.adl.org/about.asp?s=topmenu the Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” While this is indeed a noble and worthwhile endeavor, the ADL has undergone a gradual yet deliberate shift from civil rights organization to political advocacy group. Aside from the issue of the Islamic center, this transformation has been characterized by public support of some of the most aggressive forms of Israeli expansionism, a quite difficult position to reconcile with a concern for the civil and human rights of all. The League’s forays into demagoguery and political activism can only serve to damage the credibility that is vital to the efficacy of a civil rights organization.