Shame on America, Jews & the ADL
By Rabbi Bruce Warshal*
To begin, the mosque controversy does not involve a mosque. It is planned as a 13-story community center encompassing a swimming pool, 500-seat performing arts center, gym, culinary school, restaurant and, yes, a prayer space for Muslims, which already exists in the current building. A formal mosque would forbid eating or the playing of music on the premises. I guess that we are now at the point in America where Jews can have our JCC’s and Christians their YMCA’s, but Muslims are not wanted.
There is also the controversy over the proposed name, Cordoba House. The hate-mongers have described this as a reference to Muslim designs to attack western culture, hearkening back to the Muslim-Christian wars of domination in medieval Spain. The name was chosen for precisely the opposite reason. In the tenth century Cordoba was the center of the most liberal and sophisticated Caliphate in the Islamic world. All religions were not merely tolerated but respected.
The caliph, Abd al-Rahman III, had a Jew as his foreign minister and a Greek bishop in his diplomatic corps. He also had a library of 400,000 volumes at a time when the largest library in Christian Europe numbered merely 400 manuscripts. There were also 70 other smaller libraries in Cordoba. The very reference to Cordoba reflects the sophistication and liberality of the Muslims behind this project. They have changed the name of the center to the address of the building, Park 51, to deflect criticism. This was unfortunate, since nothing will quiet a hate-monger.
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam behind the proposed community center, has been attacked as an Islamic terrorist, even though he is a practitioner of Sufi Islam, which reaches out to all other religions as manifestations of the Divine. My God, the conservative Bush administration utilized Rauf as part of an outreach to the Muslim world. You can bet your life that he was thoroughly vetted by our government. He is currently being used by the Clinton State Department as well in the same capacity. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek and CNN succinctly put it, “His vision of Islam is bin Laden’s nightmare.”
And what is Rauf’s sin? He will build a Muslim community center two blocks away from Ground Zero, variously described as a “hallowed battlefield,” “holy ground,” and a “war memorial.” Even President Obama in his defense of religious freedom commented that, “Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.” I beg to differ.
If Ground Zero is holy ground, then the railroad station in Madrid, the Underground in London, the federal building in Oklahoma City, the Pentagon (where there is presently a prayer space for Muslims – yes, patriotic, religious Muslim Americans work at the Pentagon) and every other physical location that has been the object of terrorism is holy ground. If Ground Zero is holy space why plan for it to be developed with office buildings (in which the object will be to amass money – obviously a holy pursuit), a shopping center (in which consumer goods will be peddled to continue to gorge the American appetite for material possessions), and with a theater for modern dance (a project to which I personally look forward as a devotee of the Joyce, the modern dance Mecca of New York)? I’m sorry, but someone has to tell America that this designation of holy space is merely part of a mass hysteria that really scares me.
The question which must be asked is why this hysteria? The impetus comes from a triumvirate of right-wing Christians, Jews and politicians. Fundamentalist Christians are still fighting the crusades, still vying to convert the world to their truths. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, to the distress of these Christian proselytizers. What better way to win this battle than to brand all Muslims as terrorists?
Right-wing Jews think that they are doing Israel a favor by painting Islam as a terrorist religion thereby proving that Israel need not negotiate with the Palestinians. The idea is to project the concept that we are civilized and they are not. This theme is picked up in the right-wing press of Israel. Commenting on the New York proposed “mosque,” a columnist in the Jerusalem Post declares that “Islamism is a modern political tendency which arose in a spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930’s and ‘40’s.” Ground Zero isn’t Israel’s “holy ground.” Why would he be involved with this discussion? Simply because right-wing Jews in Israel as well as the United States believe that demonizing the religion of 1.3 billion people is good for Israel. God help us.
Right-wing politicians join the fray. On Fox News Newt Gingrich compares a mosque at Ground Zero to Nazis protesting at the United States Holocaust Memorial. The Democrats are cowed by the American outpouring of hate and even Harry Reid voices disapproval of the Park 51 site. It’s a perfect storm of hate.
Periodically we go through this in America. The anti-Catholic No-Nothing party ran ex-President Millard Fillmore in the presidential election of 1856 and garnered 27 percent of the votes. We deported over 10,000 people during the First World War because they opposed our entry into that war and we incarcerated loyal Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Now during this “war on terror” I shudder to think where we are headed.
The tool used in this hate campaign is the concept of collective guilt. Based on that, all Jews are traitors since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg sold out this country. All Christians are terrorists since Timothy McVeigh attacked the federal building in Oklahoma City. Neither are all Muslims traitors nor terrorists. Islam is not monolithic. Its forms are as varied as Judaism or Christianity. I do not practice Judaism the same as a Satmar Hasidic Jew. A Catholic does not practice Christianity the same as a Jehovah Witness. Imam Rauf does not share the same Islamic beliefs as bin Laden.
Of all people Jews should beware of collective guilt since we have suffered from it for millennia. Yet the organization that started this hysteria is headed by a right-wing Jewish supporter of Israel by the name of Pam Geller. She is quoted in the mainstream media (including the Jewish Journal) as if she is a legitimate political voice. Yet on her blog, Atlas Shrugs, she has declared that “Obama is the illegitimate son of Malcom X.” She has written that we have “an American-hater for president.” She has proposed that devout Muslims should be prohibited from military service. She asks, “Would Patton have recruited Nazis into his army?” To all of the rabbis quoted in the Jewish Journal urging that the “mosque” be moved, know who is pulling your strings.
Finally, to the role of the Anti-Defamation League and its director, Abe Foxman. The world was literally “shocked,” that’s the word used by the Associated Press, by ADL’s call for the mosque to be moved. Fareed Zakaria called it a “bizarre decision.” Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said, “Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational.” Referring to loved ones of the September 11 victims, he continued: “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”
How dare Foxman use the Holocaust to justify prejudice. He does blasphemy to the memory of Jews and other oppressed minorities whose lives were sacrificed on the altar of bigotry. Zakaria responds: “Does Foxman believe that bigotry is OK if people think they’re victims? Does the anguish of Palestinians, then, entitle them to be anti-Semitic?”
Five years ago the ADL honored Zakaria with the Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize. Incensed over ADL’s succumbing to bigotry, he has returned the award with the $10,000 honorarium that came with it.
The last word was recently written by Daniel Luban, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, in Tablet Magazine: “While activists like Pam Geller have led the anti-mosque campaign and the broader demonization of Muslims that has accompanied it, leaders like Abe Foxman have acquiesced in it. In doing so they risk providing an ugly and ironic illustration of the extent of Jewish assimilation in 21st-century America. We know that Jews can grow up to be senators and Supreme Court justices. Let’s not also discover that they can grow up to incite a pogrom.”
· Rabbi Bruce Warshal:
** The article originally appeared in the “Florida Jewish Journal”