This past week, adding to the controversy surrounding the Cordoba Initiative, the Anti-Defemation League (ADL) voiced its opposition to the project. Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, stated simply, “It’s the wrong place.” He compared the feelings of Holocaust survivors to those of the loved ones of 9/11 victims:
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.”
Mr. Foxman’s decision sparked immediate criticism from some within the Jewish community. Alan Dershowitz, a criminal and civil liberties lawyer and author of the influential The Case for Israel (2003) responded:
This is a dangerous argument that has implications totally inconsistent with the mission of the ADL. Bigotry is often a result of victimization, perceived or real. Many Germans felt victimized following World War I, and some blamed the Jews. Although their position was “irrational or bigoted,” they were not entitled to act on it. Nor are Palestinians who feel victimized by Israel entitled to be bigoted against Jews. There is simply […] no excuse for bigotry, and the ADL ought to know that better than any other organization.
In [an] ecumenical spirit, AJC believes the Cordoba Center has a right to be built in the proposed location.
Unlike many Muslim countries, where it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get a building permit for non-Muslim houses of worship, in America we celebrate our tradition of freedom of worship and seek to set an example for others.
While intolerance is rapidly growing in some European countries — witness the recent referendum in Switzerland to ban the construction of minarets — we reject that kind of narrow-mindedness and the fear it bespeaks.
We hope the Cordoba Center will fulfill the lofty mission its founders have articulated. They have set the bar high, describing it as a Muslim-inspired institution similar to the 92nd Street Y. If so, it means a facility truly open to the entire community — and to a wide spectrum of ideas based on peace and coexistence.
Another group of Jews expressed their disappointment in Mr. Foxman’s pronouncement, worrying that ADL has strayed from its mission:
There are other reasons not to oppose the project. We agree with you that some victims of 9/11 are entitled to “irrational” feelings as a result of their loss. But being less tolerant will not help us heal, and it is not wise for America to alienate millions of its own citizens, let alone the hundreds of millions of Muslims in countries that Americans visit around the world. Remember, there were Muslim victims on 9/11, too, Muslims that worked in the World Trade Center, or were part of the rescue crews that bravely entered the buildings that day.
Previously, the ADL has won respect for its historical defense of the freedoms of others, and helped make more widely known the Jewish commitment to tikkun olam. We fear that your position on the Cordoba House project will tarnish that reputation.
The Cordoba Initiative has sparked an internal debate within the Jewish community as within the United States in general. The decisions made in this process may be prove indicative of where the country stands on issues of religious freedom, tolerance, and the acceptance of others. Most of the authors express sympathy with those who feel a sense of antagonism towards the Cordoba Initiative, especially the bereaved of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but ask that we as a nation move past these gut reactions and allow the initiative to carry on.