The Anti-Defamation League, which has come under fire for its opposition to the planned mosque near the site of the World Trade Center, is launching an interfaith taskforce to help Muslim communities denied permission to build mosques in their neighborhoods.
The taskforce would “receive complaints, requests, [and] pleas from Muslim communities that run into … prejudice,” Abraham Foxman, the organization’s national director, said.
The initiative, Foxman said in a telephone discussion with The Jewish Standard last Friday, “needs a national specific focus and response. It will take a while because we need to find the partners.”
|Abraham Foxman Courtesy ADL|
The initiative is not in conflict with the ADL’s stance on the New York mosque, he said, arguing that it had been misunderstood and distorted. “People didn’t bother reading what we said but what other people said that we said…. We were so careful in our words, so deliberate in making sure that our position is clear and understood…. It’s not a question of right or religious liberty; we raised a question of sensitivity to the location.”
Sensitivity to discrimination against Muslims is also part of the ADL’s tradition, Foxman said. “We have always stood [up] for victims of hate – and for victims of terror.”
“The Jewish community has been caught between two very strong emotions” regarding the New York mosque, Foxman said. One emotion comes from history. Because Jews were “personally singled out and separated out, we are so sensitive to human rights. This is our passion.
“The other feeling is of fear – fear of the forces that have captured Islam in the last 20 to 30 years. Not that all Muslims are radical and jihadist,” he was quick to add, “but there are still voices in the world” against Jews. “The leading advocates of anti-Semitism in the world today are radical Muslims.”
France in particular, Foxman noted, has been plagued by anti-Jewish Muslim behavior, and Jewish sites – and Jews – in MalmÃ¶, Sweden, have been targets of Muslim attacks.
“Jews are fearful [about the mosque] because all around the world Islam is threatening Jews,” he said. “There are a lot of questions being asked about the imam. By asking, you’re not a bigot, no matter what the mayor says.” (New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has forcefully supported the building.)
“What this issue has done,” Foxman said, “is triggered both passions.”
It has also triggered a “growing phenomenon” that Foxman called “troubling” in a different way: Opposition to building new mosques, even in states far from the World Trade Center attacks. Protests against them have been mounted in California, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. (The website islamicity.com lists more than 2,000 existing mosques across the country, but Foxman does not think they are facing opposition.)
“This is a classic phenomenon in American history,” Foxman said, “when immigrants come with a faith. There was opposition, when the Irish came, to Catholic churches.”
But, he continued, “established faiths have a responsibility to come to the aid of (Muslims) who face prejudice in their neighborhoods.”