NEW YORK – In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman said 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 that he found the outcry against his organization “very painful.”
“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.”
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“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.
Foxman said the critical part of the ADL’s statement – posted on the ADL’s website 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. “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.”
It was only after journalists asked for the ADL’s stance on the
construction itself, Foxman said, that the ADL issued its statement.
“We believe if they want to build a mosque, they can build a
mosque…though we’re not sure whether it’s a mosque,” Foxman said,
alluding to the fact that the construction has been depicted in the
media in various ways, either as a mosque or as a community center with a
“Whatever will be tomorrow, will be,” Foxman said, referencing Tuesday’s
Landmarks Preservation Committee hearing in New York which will rule on
whether the building to be demolished to make way for the center is
given landmark status. “We’ll move on.”