Whatever diminishing credibility the Anti-Defamation League retains as a fighter against discrimination and bigotry against minority groups was shed today with the ADL’s announcement that it opposes the construction of the proposed Islamic Center two blocks from “Ground Zero” in downtown Manhattan. One week ago, I linked to a commentary by Robert Wright on the subject of the proposed “mosque,” and it remains as incisive an analysis about the relevant issues as when it was published. Today, Paul Krugman wrote about the ADL’s indefensible announcement on his blog, and it bears quoting in full:
Bad for the Jews
Outside my usual beat, but the statement from the Anti-Defamation League opposing the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero is truly shocking. As Greg Sargent says, the key passage — it’s a pretty short statement — is this 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.
Translation: some people will feel bad if this thing is built, and we need to take these feelings into account, even though proponents “have every right to build at this site.”
So let’s try some comparable cases, OK? It causes some people pain to see Jews operating small businesses in non-Jewish neighborhoods; it causes some people pain to see Jews writing for national publications (as I learn from my mailbox most weeks); it causes some people pain to see Jews on the Supreme Court. So would ADL agree that we should ban Jews from these activities, so as to spare these people pain? No? What’s the difference?
One thing I thought Jews were supposed to understand is that they need to be advocates of universal rights, not just rights for their particular group — because it’s the right thing to do, but also because, ahem, there aren’t enough of us. We can’t afford to live in a tribal world.
But ADL has apparently forgotten all that. Shameful — and stupid.
The ADL’s Abe Foxman, who harshly attacked Gen. David Petraeus when the general asserted Congressional testimony earlier this year that the lack of progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement made his job throughout the Arab world more difficult, is, of course, a pillar of the so-called “Israel Lobby.” And his staunch defense of the policies and actions of the most right-wing and repressive government in Israel’s history has clearly contributed to the growing alienation of liberal — especially young — Jews from Israel itself, as has been effectively argued by Peter Beinart, among others. But now his refusal to stand up for basic Constitutional principles, such as freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, not only makes a mockery of the basic tenets on which his organization was founded 97 years ago, but, as made clear by the examples cited in Krugman’s post, also makes Jews themselves vulnerable to the kind of discrimination and bigotry which the ADL’s position implicitly endorses.
While I don’t always agree with J Street — in fact, I’ve been pretty disappointed with its conservatism — I have to commend its leadership for reacting so swiftly and strongly today to the ADL’s announcement. Its reaction is also worth quoting in full:
“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.
As Mayor Bloomberg has said, proposing a church or a synagogue for that site would raise no questions. The Muslim community has an equal right to build a community center wherever it is legal to do so. We would hope the American Jewish community would be at the forefront of standing up for the freedom and equality of a religious minority looking to exercise its legal rights in the United States, rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.
What better ammunition to feed the Osama Bin Laden’s of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States as they seek to whip up global jihad than to hold this proposal for a Muslim religious center to a different and tougher standard than other religious institutions would be.”
The contrast between Foxman’s tribalism and J Street’s universalism, on this issue at least, could not be starker.
Incidentally, I highly recommend a video documentary about the ADL by Israeli film maker Yoav Shamir. What I can only understand as Foxman’s cynicism comes through quite clearly.
UPDATE: Newt Weighs In On Behalf of “Religious Tolerance”
Newt Gingrich Praises Anti-Defamation League for Opposing Proposed Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero
July 30, 2010 5pm
Washington, DC – Newt Gingrich issued the following statement praising the anti-defamation league for opposing the proposed Islamic community center near ground zero:
Throughout its nearly 100 year history, the cause of religious tolerance has had no better friend than the Anti-Defamation League. The organization’s stand today in opposition to the proposed 13-story Islamic Center near Ground Zero is entirely in keeping with that tradition. They recognize the provocative nature of the proposal, that its construction will only result in more pain for the families of 9/11 victims and fan the flames of inter-religious strife. Abe Foxman and the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League deserve praise for taking such a careful look at this issue and arriving at the right conclusion.