Abe Foxman 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
NEW YORK – 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, and the outcry against the organization has been “very painful,” ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“We’ve learned a lesson, and I think it’s a lesson we understood, but didn’t really understand – that in today’s communication world, we have lost the ability to speak with nuance or to speak subtly,” Foxman said.
“We were very, very, very careful in the words that we chose in our statement,” he continued. “If you read our statement, which most people have not read – if you’ve seen it and read it, the statement that we did spells out as precisely and as accurately and as delicately and as simply as possible our position.”
Foxman said the critical part of the ADL’s statement – which was posted on the ADL’s Web site last Friday, not sent out as a press release – was the paragraph, “The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.”
“We didn’t say it should be found, and we didn’t say we were opposed to it, okay?” Foxman said. “We brought up a sensitivity, which was then pushed by somebody for their own interest, whatever that may be. We don’t shirk from taking a position, even if the positions are not always popular.”
The ADL’s position on the issue, Foxman said, stemmed from the organization’s sense of continuity and credibility.
“It goes back to the 1980s, where we as a community asked the world to help us prevent the building of a convent at Auschwitz, or on its periphery,” Foxman elaborated. “We were then accused of being bigots – anti-Catholic, anti-Christian.
“We said, look, if you want to heal or reconcile, do it elsewhere,” he recalled. “That location was painful for us. It wasn’t till eight years after all the ‘sturm und drang
’ that Pope John Paul understood, and ordered the Carmelite nuns to move about a mile away and set up their convent.”
Foxman said the situation regarding the proposed Islamic Community Center was “similar” in terms of issues of sensitivity to the families of September 11 victims.
“The families have been saying to the Muslim proponents of the center, if you want to heal, this is not the place to heal,” Foxman said, speaking of the two-block proximity of the location to Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center was destroyed by Islamic terrorists. “If you want to reconcile, this is not the proper place.”
Foxman said he was profoundly unsettled by the press reaction to the ADL statement.
“I’ve been around 45 years [at the ADL] and I’ve never made the front page of The New York Times
on the upper half,” Foxman said, saying he was “surprised” by the prominence given to the story.
“The fact that there are bigots who espouse a position that you have
doesn’t mean you’re a bigot,” Foxman said.
He added that he found
accusations of anti-Muslim sentiment lobbed against the ADL in the wake
of the statement “very painful.”
In fact, Foxman noted, “we were
speaking out in defense of the mosque, because of the bigotry, the
racism and the Islamophobia that is out there that was directed at the
concept of the mosque. Whenever that was out there, we were there.”
was only after journalists asked for the ADL’s stance on the
construction itself, Foxman said, that the ADL issued its statement.