In a nod, intentional or not, to the holiday spirit of atonement, the Anti-Defamation League announced just before Rosh Hashana that it has formed a task force, together with Christian and Muslim groups, to support Muslim congregations facing hostility around the country, particularly in connection with building mosques.
The September 7 announcement came five weeks after the ADL drew a storm of criticism for coming out against the building of an Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. The New York Times reported the ADL statement under a two-column headline at the top of its July 30 front page. Within days ADL had Joe Klein calling in Time magazine for Abe Foxman to be fired and a host of other pundits — in American Prospect, Vanity Fair, Salon and elsewhere — accusing Foxman and the league of betraying their anti-bigotry legacy by enabling bigotry.
Whether or not the ADL’s new Islam defense coalition is a reply to its critics or simply business as usual is hard to tell. What’s clear is that the criticisms stung. Foxman wrote a heated reply to his critics August 2 in the Huffington Post, calling the attacks “extremely painful” and reciting a list of ADL efforts against Islamophobia since 2001.
Since then the ADL has noticeably kicked up its anti-Islamophobia profile. Of course, that might simply reflect the fact that Islamophobia has been running wild in the streets. Either way, it’s on a tear. Key examples:
On August 26 the league issued a statement praising the NYPD for giving hate-crime status to the stabbing of a Muslim cabdriver, and it cited “elevated anti-Muslim sentiment” surrounding the Ground Zero debate as background to the crime. The same day it published a report on the Islamophobic record of anti-mosque firebrand Pamela Geller. The next day, August 27, Foxman had another Huffington Post piece, this time a wide-ranging attack on the current wave of Muslim-bashing. He cited several recent mosque bombings and called out the Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy’s kid, as a leading inciter.
On Rosh Hashana eve, the day after announcing the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, ADL issued a statement condemning “anti-Muslim actions and rallies” set for September 11. It singled out the then-pending Koran burning in Florida, calling it “outrageous and horrific,” as well as a planned rally near Ground Zero by Pamela Geller and Dutch Islamophobe Geert Wilders, which it called “un-American.” Along the way it issued strong statements condemning Hamas for the killing of four Israelis near Hebron and demanding an apology from Time magazine for the “insidious subtext” of a cover story on Israelis and the peace process. It also criticized Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Israeli Sephardic chief rabbi and spiritual leader of the Shas party, for his “offensive and incendiary” homily calling for the Palestinians and their leaders to “perish.”
Lest we forget, the American Jewish Committee has also been active during these closing weeks of summer. Like ADL, it attacked Hamas for the Kiryat Arba murders, slammed Time magazine for its “malicious myth about Israel and peace” and praised the hate-crimes indictment of the alleged New York cabbie-killer.
And sort of like the ADL, the committee issued a condemnation of “provocative” actions planned for September 11. AJC’s formula was slightly different, though: Instead of pairing two anti-Muslim provocations in a condemnation of Islamophobia, it twinned the planned Koran burning with a planned 9/11 Ground Zero march against Islamophobia, for a general condemnation of, well, bad stuff. Coincidentally, the march AJC disliked resembled the one ADL disliked in one curious way: They both featured a duo of American agitator and European lawmaker — in AJC’s case, Israel-bashing former lawmakers Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and George Galloway of London.
The committee came back with an unambiguous condemnation of Islamophobia on September 11 itself, in the form of a Miami Herald op-ed article by AJC’s associate director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi Noam Marans.
So far there’s been no mention on the AJC website of Ovadia Yosef’s sermon.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).