American Jews often defend Muslims

Recent example involves the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ where the leading Jewish defenders were passionate in their defense.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg  (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
(photo credit: Associated Press)
When was the last time leading Arabs or Muslims came to the defense of Jews? I say that because a phenomenal thing happened in America last week. American Jews were divided, but still led the national debate on whether or not a mosque should be allowed within blocks of “Ground Zero,” the spot where the Twin Towers collapsed under a terrorist assault on September 11, 2001.
Although the Anti-Defamation League flip-flopped on the issue, supporting it on principle and then later opposing it on emotional grounds, it did so with attempted gracefulness.
The ADL noted the intense emotions aroused and said that Muslims seeking to build the mosque should recognize the feelings of those who lost family, relatives and friends in the al-Qaida terrorist attack.
Yet the ADL was just one of the American Jewish voices addressing the controversy; the leading Jewish defenders were not only passionate in their defense but stubborn about the principle involved.
Among those voices was one of the country’s leading Jewish politicians, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose eyes welled up with emotion while he declared that Muslims have every right to build a mosque, just as Christians and Jews could build a church or synagogue nearby.
Bloomberg was consistent in May when he declared: “I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try to build a church or synagogue on that piece of property, nobody would be yelling and screaming.
The fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too.”
Bloomberg remained principled on August 3, when he insisted: “Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors mourned with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values – and play into our enemies’ hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave in to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists – and we should not stand for that.”
ONE OF America’s leading Jewish American writers, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, expressed shock at the ADL flip-flop, and unhesitantly defended the right of Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
Steinberg concluded a column addressing the issue, saying: “I expect more from the ADL.
Given the history of Jews being tarred as an evil foreign presence, I thought we’d be not quite so fast to condemn others based on the same non-reasoning. There are lots of Islamic terrorists, sure, but there are also lots of Jewish bankers. Both are still offensive stereotypes, still slurs, and I can’t see how what one group of 19 Muslims did in 2001 should prevent another, completely separate group of Muslims from building a religious center in 2010. How is claiming that any different from saying I can’t join your country club because the Jews killed Christ? The ADL thinks the Islamic center spoils the healing process? Well boo hoo – the Jewish kids spoil the Christmas pageant too, but they aren’t forced to stay home. That’s how America works. We adapt. I thought the Anti-Defamation League understood that, but I guess I was wrong.”
Steinberg also asked the question many may have asked quietly. If two blocks is too close to Ground Zero, how far away would be acceptable? Six blocks? One mile? Ten miles? These were but a few of the principled and courageous voices raised in defense of the Muslim American community as the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy raged. These voices stood in stark contrast to the hysteria of mainstream Americans who packed the media with assertions that Islam is “evil” and that all Muslims support terrorism.
I hope to one day hear Arab and Muslim voices speak in defense of the Jewish people as powerfully as the Jewish community has spoken in defense of Muslims.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is a tragedy that keeps both sides on “politically correct” guard. But it doesn’t mean that Arabs and Muslims can’t be principled, moral or ethical in defending what is right when it comes to anti-Semitism.
Arabs and Muslims should not allow themselves to be consumed by what we think is wrong. Sometimes we need to step outside of the conflict and remind others and ourselves that we also believe in what is right.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.