ADL Continues To Suffer Harsh Criticism for Its Opposition to Mosque Near Ground Zero

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published August 11, 2010, issue of August 20, 2010.
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More than a week after the Anti-Defamation League publicly opposed the construction of an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center, erstwhile allies of the group continue to lob criticisms at the organization over the statement.

On August 6, CNN host and Newsweek magazine columnist Fareed Zakaria returned an award and cash prize given to him by the ADL five years ago over of the group’s statement on the mosque, saying that the position was “utterly opposed to the animating purpose” of the ADL.

And in a previously unreported incident, the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York — effectively the lawyer for New York City’s mayor — criticized the ADL’s position to the group’s lay leadership. Michael Cardozo, who is a member of the executive committee of the ADL New York Lawyers Division, informed ADL lay leaders that he disagreed with the statement on the mosque issue, according to Cardozo’s office.

But as some habitual allies join perennial critics in decrying the organization’s statement, the mood within the highly disciplined organization remains opaque.

“It is a betrayal of our first principles, and it’s tearing the league apart,” said one board member, who asked not to be named.

Other board members who supported the position on the mosque said that the controversy would have no lasting impact on the ADL.

“ADL has had crises of this nature in the past,” said Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a member of the ADL’s national commission. “They have always surmounted it by their good works and their general reputation in the community. It will hurt, but it will pass.”

In a letter sent in response to Zakaria’s announcement that he would return the ADL award, the organization’s national director, Abraham Foxman, told Zakaria that he would keep the award and the check “in hope that you will come to see that ADL acted appropriately and you will want to reclaim them.”

Foxman also defended his group’s position and criticized Zakaria for not speaking directly with him before returning the prize.

Cardozo’s opposition to the statement, which appears to dovetail with recent comments by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was made to ADL national chair Robert Sugarman and to a committee of lawyers that advises the ADL.

The ADL has provided diversity training to the New York City Law Department, Cardozo’s office, for two and a half years. The training is funded through a donation.

Meanwhile, New York Republican politicians have continued to criticize the mosque project and its supporters. In a press statement released August 9, gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino alleged ties between Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is spearheading the community center, and the people who carried out the September 11 attacks. “The developers of this mosque are directly tied to extreme fundamentalist Islamists who advocate an ideology of hate and violence,” Paladino said. “This isn’t about moderate peace-loving Muslim’s (sic); this is about a sect of radical fundamentalist Islamists who attacked our nation and who are tied to this mosque by an ideology of hate.”

Paladino cited alleged statements by Rauf without providing quotes, and did not offer substantiated evidence of the claims. Rauf could not be reached for comment.

The ADL, which said in its statement on the mosque that it condemned those who opposed the project because of “bigotry” on the basis of religion, has not commented on Paladino’s statement. But a spokeswoman for the organization pointed out that the ADL’s New York regional director has been a vocal critic of Pamela Geller, who is sponsoring advertisements opposing the project that are slated to appear on New York City buses and feature an image of the September 11 attacks.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis


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