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Foxman Keeps Digging

Claims (falsely) that ADL was taken out of context

Marc Tracy
August 03, 2010

Memo to Abraham Foxman: Remember the first rule of holes. (For update on Foxman’s latest op-ed, see end of post.) He is bewildered at the “very painful” anger many have expressed concerning the Anti-Defamation League’s opposition to the Islamic center slated to be built a couple blocks from Ground Zero. Did I say “opposition”? Apparently I and everyone else misread the ADL’s statement. “We didn’t say it should be found, and we didn’t say we were opposed to it, okay?” Foxman tells The Jerusalem Post.

Actually, it’s not okay. Foxman is not telling the truth. The statement, released last Friday, reads:

But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. 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.

That is opposition, crystal-clear. There is no other way to read it.

Foxman goes on to plead that the statement was more “nuanced” than many of his critics alleged. That is true: Foxman’s opposition was predicated not on religious freedom or civil rights—in fact it acknowledged that Cordoba House’s developers have those rights—but rather on the ostensible sensitivity of survivors. To the extent that this nuance was elided (which it was not in Tablet Magazine), he has a point.

But there is nothing in the ADL’s mission statement about representing 9/11 survivors or pointing out sensitivities. It is a narrowly defined organization dedicated to promoting “civil rights” and “democratic ideals.” (By contrast, the unaffiliated Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), who said much the same thing as the ADL today, is allowed whatever opinion he wants.) This is probably why the American Jewish Committee declared that the Cordoba House “has a right to be built,” did not take a position on the survivors’ sensitivities, and expressed hope that the center would prove “a facility truly open to the entire community—and to a wide spectrum of ideas based on peace and coexistence.” This is probably why J Street was able to collect over 10,000 signatures in under 24 hours supporting the project.

All of that said, if you do want to play the concern-for-the-survivors game, then check out Jeff Goldberg’s post from this morning. Surely we can agree that our number-one goal ought to be to prevent further catastrophes and further sensitive survivors?

UPDATE: I did not see Foxman’s own defense until after writing this post. Suffice to say it is an extended version of the original statement, which did, indeed, as I have noted several times before, acknowledge the center’s rights. “However, we also must take into consideration the feelings of the families who lost loved ones at Ground Zero,” he writes. To which the natural response is: Why? Why is that any of the ADL’s business? And if, as a private citizen, Foxman felt he had also take the feelings of the families into consideration, why could he not have simply had the ADL say nothing at all?

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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