Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the main force behind a plan to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in New York, thanked on Tuesday the American Jewish supporters who backed the proposed center amid a widespread contoversy.
I express my heartfelt appreciation for the gestures of goodwill and support from our Jewish friends and colleagues, he said. Your support is a reflection of the great history of mutual cooperation and understanding that Jewish and Muslim civilizations have shared in the past, and remains a testament to the enduring success of our continuing dialogue and dedication to upholding religious freedom, tolerance and cooperation among us all as Americans.
Tempers have been heating up in the New York City area over the plans by the American Society for Muslim Advancement and another Islamic group known as the Cordoba Initiative to build a $100 million, 13-story, Islamic cultural center and mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero.
Other provocative aspects include the fact that the majority of the money will allegedly come from the Saudis and the Ford Foundation, as well as the plan to inaugurate the new center on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
On Saturday, the Anti Defamation League condoned the plan, calling it "counterproductive."
The Cordoba Initiative N.Y.C project, which became known as the ground zero mosque, stirred heated national debate in the US, which shifted since the last Wednesday to the Jewish organizations, following the statement on the controversial project.
The ADL stressed its commitment to the freedom of religion and rejection of bigotry – but, regarding the sensitivity of the site chosen for the new Islamic center, ADL defined the insistence of the Cordoba initiative to build the 13 storey Islamic community center, including the mosque, two blocks away from the 9/11 attacks site as counterproductive," adding that proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam, said a statement.
Yet, the liberal Jews were quick to slash the ADL on its hypocrisy and the harm the latest decision caused to their declared mission. The pro-Israeli lobby JStreet collected over 10,000 signatures in support of the center that were delivered to the Landmarks Preservation Commission ahead of its vote on the Cordoba House (the commission unanimously voted Tuesday to deny landmark designation to the site).
Appalled by the opposition to plans by American Muslims to build a community center in lower Manhattan modeled after Jewish Community Centers all over the country, J Street is collecting petitions in support of religious freedom and against anti-Muslim bigotry, J street announced on their website.
Liberal Tikkun magazine editor Rabbi Michael Lerner called ADL's decision a shame," adding that ADL leader Abe Foxman presented the position of this organization that claims to oppose discrimination by reading a formal statement that seemed to be a perfect example of shooting and crying."
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the founder of The Shalom Center, supported the center along with about 30 rabbis and Jewish leaders, and asked the supporters to contact Foxmans office to make him change his organizations position.
AJC also declared Tuesday that the Cordoba Islamic Center has a right to be built – but urged the founders of the center to address concerns about funding and support for terrorism.
The Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman called to impose some conditions on the center construction – basically, to stop the project until there is further evaluation of its impact on the families and friends of victims of the 9-11 attacks, the intention of the centers sponsors, and their sources of funding.
Sharif el-Gamal, lead developer of the Park 51 project and member of the Jewish community center in upper Manhattan told Haaretz he did not expect the attention they have been receiving as he had been trying to buy the building for five years with this intention to build the center. "Ive been looking for almost 10 years within this vicinity. Its not easy to find real estate in New-York."
El-Gamal, who has a Jewish sister-in-law, added that "the mosque will be a small component of a larger facility and it will be run as a separate non-profit. There will be a gym, a pool, restaurant. A spa, multi-use facilities, and also a September 11 memorial space to honor the victims."
Critics of the mosque have raised the fact that Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf went on record as telling CNN, right after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. policies were an accessory to the crime that happened. We (the U.S.) have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. Osama bin Laden was made in the USA.
Responding to the critics, Abraham Foxman told Haaretz that his statement was distorted by all kinds of groups and people with political agendas.
ADLs position is very clear and simple – it is about location and sensitivity, it is not about religious freedom and prejudice. When the Catholic Church wanted to build a prayer center near Auschwitz, we said no and called the world to confront it," Foxman said.
"We were labeled anti Christians, until Pope John Paul said they can build their center one mile away. And its been there for the last 15 years, without any conflict," he added.