I discussed Rabbi Iriwn Kula in my last post, and he deserves another mention for this: the ADL has come out against the planned Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero, and Kula responds:
“The ADL should be ashamed of itself,” said Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, which promotes interethnic and interfaith dialogue. Speaking of the imam behind the proposed center, Feisal Abdul Rauf, he 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.”
The ADL statement , which refers to “questions” about the builders’ funding and “connections,” ultimately says their opposition is about sensitivity to 9/11′s victims, survivors, and families:
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.
That sounded a lot more reasonable than quotes ADL head Abe Foxman gave to the Times:
Asked why the opposition of the families was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.
“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”
Want to try again, Abe? I can think of about 10 other ways to say this without painting Holocaust victims as bigots and the ADL as apologists for bigotry. He was making a more general point, and that traumatized people’s feelings need to be taken into account in certain situations, and to that extent I agree with him. A few people have compared the Islamic center to the convent that was planned for a site near Auschwitz.
And yet while it is appropriate to take the families’ feelings into account, it is also appropriate to consider the positive impact of a moderate Muslim presence near the site of a fanatical Muslim atrocity (see especially Jeffrey Goldberg, who vouches for the group behind the center and the center’s geopolitical importance).
The ADL could have been a positive force in leading a discussion along these lines — creating some kind of forum in which supporters of the center, victims, and politial opponents could have weighed these charged issues in a responsible way. (ADL’s mission statement talks about the way it “develops and delivers educational programs” and “fosters interfaith/intergroup relations.”)
Maybe that would have come off as wishy-washy, but sometimes ’tis nobler to admit a degree of ambivalence, or just keep your mouth shut, than to indulge your addiction for the headline-making thumbs up/thumbs down.
I hope someone finds out why the ADL felt it had to inject itself into this ugly and politicized battle, essentially turning an emotional zoning dispute into a war between faiths. Who in their hierarchy besides Abe thought this was a good idea, and was eager to see headlines like, “Jewish Group Opposes Muslim Center Near Ground Zero” (which in later editions of the Times has been changed to the more pareve “Debate Heats Up About Mosque Near Ground Zero”?