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Ahmed Shihab-Eldin Headshot

ADL Betrays Mission to Fight Bigotry, Discredits Itself Yet Again

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Islam is not responsible for 9/11, extremism is. Just like the two planes that crashed into the Twin Towers, Islam was also hijacked and used to justify the unjustifiable - an act of terror.

The U.S. government's inability to prevent the attacks was unfortunate, but a bigger misfortune was the event's ability to create a xenophobic climate that would divide America, defame Islam, and drive the U.S. to disregard human rights and its own constitution in a scurried pursuit of two wars - one, completely unrelated to 9/11 - and both costing tens of thousands of American, Afghan, and Iraqi casualties as a consequence.

So when the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a group founded in 1913 to fight bigotry, religious intolerance and anti-Semitism, released a statement claiming that while Muslims have the right to build an Islamic Center, it would be wrong to build it near Ground Zero as it could be hurtful or offensive to some, it played into the fear-mongering that has caused so much prejudice towards Islam, undermined the group's moral authority as a civil rights organization, and underlined its double standard regarding Islam.

The statement concluded that "building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain unnecessarily and that is not right."

If we apply this logic then the building of a wall inside the Green Line dividing Israel and the West Bank, which is sure to cause millions of Palestinians more pain unnecessarily, is also not right.

But it would seem the ADL, whose mission statement claims to "put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens," is selective about which construction projects it supports.

It supports the construction of a wall that pains Palestinians, divides religions and that the International Court of Justice deems illegal while it condemns the building of a cultural Islamic center that aims to bring people of different religions together in prayer and communion.

The ADL claims to "probe the root of hatred, develop and deliver educational programs and foster interfaith/intergroup relations."

But when given an opportunity to support the development of the Cordoba Initiative, a community-driven platform for promoting interfaith dialogue and tolerance, it overlooked the opportunity to build bridges among religious communities and dispel misconceptions about Islam, and instead aimed to use the painful past to prevent a better future.

Tolerance is the antidote to the poison of extremism and bigotry that is preached and practiced by the masterminds of 9/11.

However, despite its charter statement, tolerance is not the hallmark of recent ADL actions.

For many years the ADL has earned respect for its support of civil rights, but it diverged from its original mission when Israel was founded and it began to compromise its pledge to defend the rights of all minorities in exchange for supporting Israel's expanding territory and policies.

This shift was codified in the group's 1974 publication, "The New Anti-Semitism," a book that suggests that new criticisms of Israel's extreme policies by "radical left," "radical right" and "pro-Arab" figures in the U.S. constituted, in one way or another, a form of anti-Semitism.

This mandate to stamp out criticism of Israel as emblematic of Anti-Semitism is manifest in recent ADL actions.

On February 10, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Abe Foxman, the National Director of the ADL, defended Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's proposal to require Israeli citizens to sign an oath of allegiance or have their citizenship stripped.

In March, when President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton both demanded an immediate end to the building of new Jewish settlements, the ADL reacted with statements of condemnation. Foxman said he was "shocked and stunned" by the administration's tone and that "one can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians."

Even when Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, claimed that the lack of progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace "sets the strategic context" for U.S. security in the region, Foxman called Petraeus' views "dangerous and counterproductive." Foxman said, "Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict."

The ADL also evolved from a "human rights" organization to one that was involved in spying on individuals and groups on U.S. soil.

In January 1993, San Francisco newspapers uncovered the ADL's extensive domestic spying network aimed against U.S. citizens who opposed Israel's policies in Gaza and the West Bank and the apartheid policies of South Africa's government.

Several months later an article published in the Village Voice documented how Roy Bullock, an ADL spy, had compiled files for the ADL on almost 10,000 individuals and more than 950 political groups, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

According to the Village Voice, when the ADC and other civil rights and social justice groups, as well as several individuals sued the ADL for violating civil and privacy rights under federal and California laws, the ADL settled out of court by agreeing to pay $175,000 towards the legal fees of plaintiffs, $75,000 to the County of San Francisco, after District Attorney Arlo Smith decided to drop criminal charges, and promised to contribute $25,000 to a fund towards improving relations between Jews and other minority groups.

While the ADL denied the plaintiffs' claims, it has been prohibited from obtaining confidential information from any state employee in the future.

Once again the ADL is enflaming inter-community tensions rather than calming them. Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria's decision to return a first amendment award he received from the ADL in 2005 and his public call for the ADL to reverse its decision suggests that the group's integrity as a civil rights group is coming under more scrutiny.

In his letter to them, Zakaria advised that "admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain a reputation."

In response Foxman wrote in a letter, "As someone I greatly respect for engaging in discussion and dialogue with an open mind I would have expected you to reach out to me before coming to judgment."

Should the "open-minded" Foxman then not have reached out to moderate Muslims perhaps, such as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is heading the Codroba House, before coming to a judgment against the initative?

Abdul Rauf, whose latest book is titled, "What's Right with Islam is What's Right with America" looks to the common ground between America and Islam in an effort to find solutions to current tensions and help Muslims better understand their own religion and help non-Muslims get past the negative perceptions perpetuated since 9/11 by extremists like Osama Bin Laden.

The Cordoba House would be a community-driven platform for inter-community gatherings to promote tolerance. The Muslim-led project is not exclusively a mosque and it is not being built at ground zero. Yet rather than educating the ignorant and denouncing demagogic politicians, the ADL is exacerbating the problem.

After delivering a speech at Governor's Island defending religious freedom, Mayor Bloomberg was asked whether he would demand that the developers of the Cordoba House move the mosque.

"I think that would be handing the terrorists a victory. It is the last thing we should do," he said.

"While the ADL have a right to their opinion...I will say I find it out of character with their stated mission, totally out of character."

So far has the ADL strayed from the goal of securing justice and fair treatment for all citizens that it fails to recognize such a center would not only be good for Muslims, but for those of other faiths, including Jews.