The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center love to see their names in print, but even they might consider the three separate articles in the Aug. 11 Los Angeles Times a bit much.
In the same issue, the Times reported in three different ways on the public reactions by the two Jewish organizations to the plan to build a large mosque two blocks from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
The mosque, named Cordoba House by its backers and “Ground Zero mosque” by its detractors, has been advertised as a future cultural center and meeting place for members of all religions to talk, view exhibits, visit bookstores and go swimming.
The harshest Times criticism came in an unsigned editorial, which claims that in questioning the propriety of building a mosque close to where 3,000 people died in an attack carried out by Muslims, ADL and the Wiesenthal Center went counter to their professed ideals of tolerance and anti-discrimination.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, which has its headquarters in Los Angeles, has expressed personal opposition to the location of the Cordoba House, comparing it to the German government building a cultural center facing Auschwitz after World War II.
However, Hier urged that the decision on whether to locate the mosque near Ground Zero should be left to the families of 9/11 victims, rather than politicians.
The Times editorial ends somewhat snidely with the advice that the Wiesenthal Center “should take care not to be seen as hypocritical for opposing an Islamic community center on grounds of insensitivity, while moving forward with the construction of a deeply controversial new Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, located on an old Islamic burial ground. Sensitivity, like opposition to bigotry, must run both ways.”
On the op-ed page, Tim Rutten, a respected Times columnist, wrote of the “nativist agitation” by the mosque’s opponents and the ADL’s “ill-advised intervention in the controversy.”
Like Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek’s international editor, Rutten has been the recipient of ADL’s annual Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedom Prize.
But unlike Zakaria, who has announced that he is returning the award and accompanying monetary prize to ADL in protest of its stance on the mosque, Rutten wrote that he will not do so.
He explained that “ADL’s misguided excess of feeling in a case in which clear thinking was requisite is not part of a pattern, which is why it stands out so clearly as a mistake. In fact, since 9/11 the organization has spoken out clearly against discrimination toward Muslims.
“In an era of revived nativism like this one,” Rutten added, “ADL, even if it occasionally errs, is an organization I regard as indispensable.”
In the entertainment section of the same issue, staff writer David Ng reports that the Wiesenthal Center is “not opposed to the new structure — at least not in principle,” and also quotes Hier’s suggestion that the families of 9/11 victims should have the final word.
“Ground zero is the site of one of the greatest atrocities ever committed on U.S. soil. It may be too much to bear for families of those who were murdered,” the article quotes Hier.
Backers of Cordoba House won a major victory earlier this month when New York’s Landmarks Preservation Committee removed one obstacle by turning down a request to grant historic status to the former Burlington Coat factory, now standing on the proposed mosque site.
A leading voice in support of the mosque project has been New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. On its Web site, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) publicly thanked the Jewish mayor for his stand.