Anti-Defamation League opposes Ground Zero mosque

Protesters hold signs at a rally at Liberty

Protesters hold signs at a rally at Liberty and Church streets in lower Manhattan Sunday to demonstrate against building a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. (June 6, 2010) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

A national Jewish civil rights group on Friday said it opposes the construction of an Islamic community center and mosque blocks from Ground Zero, arguing that while proponents may have the right to build on the site, the location is "counterproductive to the healing process."

In a carefully worded statement, the Anti-Defamation League entered the heated national debate surrounding the building of Cordoba House, saying it condemns those who oppose the project based on bigotry. But added that because of the "unique circumstances" said the city would be "better served if an alternative location could be found."

"Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right," the statement said. "In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain - unnecessarily - and that is not right."

The project, two blocks north of Ground Zero, is being built by the Manhattan-based Cordoba Initiative, a tax-exempt Muslim outreach foundation. The 13-story, $100 million, Islamic center was overwhelmingly approved by the local community board last spring and is designed to serve as a cultural center for interfaith programs. A mosque that would accommodate about 2,000 worshipers is a part of the project.

The project has gained national attention, and with it opposition by several prominent figures, including Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports the project, has called those who oppose it "un-American."

Cordoba officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

The 97-year-old ADL is one of the most prominent American Jewish groups and known for its advocacy of religious freedom and interfaith harmony. Its position on the Islamic center shocked many in civil rights and religious tolerance community.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of J Street, a dovish, pro-Israel group, said he would hope ADL would be at the forefront in defending the freedom of a religious minority, "rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers."

In a statement, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said he met ADL's decision with a "great deal of sorrow."

"It is unfair to prejudge the impact this center can have on reconciliation before it is even built," Gaddy said. "And we must remember that just because someone prays in a mosque, that does not make them any less of a citizen than you or I."

In the statement, the ADL also supported Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio's request that state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo probe the project's funding. The statement called the questions "legitimate" and said they deserve a response. "We hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming," the group said, adding, "regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one."

Cordoba's director, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has not disclosed the funding sources for the project. But Sharif El-Gamal, the chief executive of the company that owns the property, has said backers were committed to transparency and would work with the attorney general's watchdog Charities Bureau.

Gaddy said he agreed with the ADL's request but said: "At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center."With AP

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