NEW YORK – One month after taking a stand against construction of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in Manhattan, the Anti-Defamation League has started an interfaith coalition meant to help American Muslim communities who are facing opposition in building mosques.

The Interfaith Coalition on Mosques (ICOM) is a newly-formed organization composed of individuals and Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups, and is meant to provide support and stand with Muslims when their rights are being violated. Its charter members include ADL national director Abraham Foxman, Park Avenue Synagogue Rabbi Elliott Cosgrove, and Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, founder of the Center for Leadership and Learning and former chairman of the United States Holocaust Museum.

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The group’s statement of purpose notes that “Working as the national Interfaith Coalition On Mosques (ICOM) under the sponsorship of the Anti-Defamation League, our purpose is to assist Muslim communities who are being denied permission to build mosques in their neighborhoods.”

“While we are extremely concerned about discrimination against mosque building in America, we will also recognize that local governments have legitimate concerns about zoning and other planning issues within the framework of current federal, state and local laws,” the statement of purpose reads.

“We believe the best way to uphold America's democratic values is to ensure that Muslims can exercise the same religious freedom enjoyed by everyone in America,” the statement adds. “They deserve nothing less than to have a place of worship like everyone else.”

The statement of purpose cites recent incidents in the United States where construction of mosques have been opposed vociferously, and with “ugly rhetoric,” including in Florida, Tennessee, Wisconsin and California.

Conspicuously absent from the group’s statement of purpose, however, is any mention of New York City.

The ADL recently came under fire for its controversial stand opposing the Park 51 Islamic Community Center proposed for a site two blocks away from Manhattan’s Ground Zero. The proposed location of the center has become a highly politicized debate in the United States. New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stood in support of the project as testament to New York’s religious diversity. However, many national politicians, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, have spoken out against the center, calling its proximity to the World Trade Center site inappropriate at best, in light of the events of September 11th, 2001, and offensive at worst.

In August, the ADL released a statement calling for the Park 51 project to be moved from its planned location, citing the objections by relatives of the victims.

“The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process,” the ADL’s statement on the issue read. “Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.”

At the time, Foxman vociferously rejected claims his organization had betrayed the message of religious tolerance it usually preaches.

The ADL’s position on the construction of the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero was more “nuanced’ than people had been led to believe, Foxman told The Jerusalem Post last month, and the outcry against the ADL was “very painful.”

In an interview about ICOM with The Jerusalem Post, Foxman said the Park 51 issue was completely separate from ICOM’s goals, and that there is “no disconnect” between the ADL’s stance on the two issues.

“In New York, there is no issue of legality, and we made that very clear – they have a legal right to do it,” Foxman said of the Park 51 developers' right to construct an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero. “It’s just a question of whether they should do it. You know what’s similar? That right wing lunatic minister has the right to burn the Koran, but it’s not the right thing to do.”

Further explaining the ADL’s position on Park 51, Foxman said, “we raised the question of sensitivity to the location – a position which over 70 percent of American people agree with. It’s not a question of their right to do it.



“What the debate around the so-called ‘Ground Zero mosque’ did was that it surfaced that there is a problem in America where Muslims were having problems exercising their right to build a mosque,” Foxman said.

“They do have a Constitutional right. So we decided to put together an interfaith coalition, where we will ascertain and check the facts, find out whether there has been discrimination and then determine what kind of remedy or remedial help to dispatch, whether legal support, public relations support, or whatever.”

“America woke up to realize there’s a problem out there,” Foxman continued. “Our purpose to address the issue and problem, and then to make sure there is proper information and proper action.”

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