The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the nation's foremost Jewish civil rights organization, took a troubling position recently that screams out for further examination. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a Manhattan community board approved the construction of Cordoba House, an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero, the location of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Sadly, the ADL has come out against the construction of this center, calling for it to be built on a different location. On its website, the organization says that freedom of religion includes the right of Americans of all religions to build houses of worship. The ADL also states that they "categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry. However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site." Mindful of the pain felt by the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, the organization has concluded that "the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process."
The mission of the ADL, nearly a century old now, is "to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens." A noble goal, to be sure, but one of which the ADL has fallen short. The organization has taken many proper stands against racism and hate groups, but like most organizations, has had an imperfect past. But for a civil rights organization to sanction intolerance is, well, intolerable.
J Street, a progressive pro-Israel, pro-peace organization, released a statement calling on the Jewish community to stand up for a religious minority trying to exercise its legal rights. Regarding the Islamic center--noting that a synagogue or church would not be subject to such scrutiny-- J Street decries those "fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate." Joe Klein of Time Magazine said in rather harsh words that the ADL has gone "from beacon of tolerance to slightly potty geyser of toxic foolishness."
Just imagine if the NAACP announced its support for the Arizona anti-immigrant law, which discriminates against Latinos. Now, imagine the NAACP maintained they reject the racists who support the law because they hate Latinos, not to mention the hate group that helped write the legislation. And this is the quandary in which the ADL finds itself. You can't have it both ways. If people share your position, but for the wrong reasons, perhaps your position is wrong and needs to change.
In this case, the Anti-Defamation League is providing cover to Neocons and the Christian Right, who are known for their hatred of Muslims and the Arab world just because. Further, the ultra-Right claims to support Israel far more than that so-called socialist-fascist-Kenyan Obama. After all, House Republicans just gave the green light for a resolution supporting an Israeli campaign to bomb Iran, which would be catastrophic for the U.S. and the entire Mideast region.
The neocons love war, because military domination is part of their playbook. Remember the Project for the New American Century and their pet project called the war on terror? Meanwhile, the Christian Right is even more insidious and diabolical in their motives for supposedly standing by Israel. Their feigned support for Israel and opposition to Mideast peace is nothing more than pure anti-Semitism, based on their interpretation of a concept called the Rapture. They want all Jews in the same place, namely the Holy Land, so that when Jesus returns, all Jews who do not accept Christ will perish.
But there is an even bigger picture here. Right-wing voices in Israel and the U.S. have tried to monopolize the debate regarding Mideast policy and discussions on Israel. American neocons have been at the forefront of the dangerous politicization surrounding accusations of anti-Semitism. Ultra-rightwing hawks run Israel's coalition government, expand the Jewish settlements on Palestinian land and maintain the prison called Gaza. Meanwhile, a small group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis would decide in talibanic fashion who is not a Jew--including anyone who is not ultra-Orthodox. This happens as women are arrested and called Nazis for carrying the Torah at the Waling Wall. Any discussion on the Cordoba House controversy in New York must take all of this into account.
And certainly, the Anti-Defamation League is well aware of the dangers of singling out a religious or racial minority group as scapegoats, an object of society's contempt. This only paves the way for laws that remove those groups from civic life, if not from life itself. It happened with Jews under the Nuremberg laws, Japanese-Americans in World War Two, and African-Americans under Jim Crow. Today, it's Latinos, Muslims and people of Arab descent.
The Anti-Defamation League tarnishes its image when it provides cover to those who have a disdain for civil and human rights. You have to be careful when you call yourself a civil rights organization, yet stand with Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. You lose credibility that way.
David A. Love is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com, and a contributor to The Progressive Media Project and theGrio. He is based in Philadelphia, and is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. His blog is davidalove.com.