The Conspiracy

The Cordoba Initiative is Not Jewish

I’m not sure if other people know this, but the community center/mosque that New York City just approved for construction is not a Jewish project. Given the public statements on the center from the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and J Street–all leading Jewish American organizations–your Jew on the street could assume that this was some sort of interfaith project by the Jewish Community Relations Council, rahter than an Islamic effort. By the same token, this latest bout of public statements was akin to those I’d seen on the flotilla crisis or the recent conversion fiasco in the Knesset.

Despite those public statements, this is not a Jewish issue. I understand that Israel fights Islamic terror. I understand that sympathy with Israel makes America’s Jews more attuned to Islamic activity in the US. What I don’t understand is why that makes some Jewish organizations think they have anything to do with an Islamic cultural center’s construction in downtown Manhattan. Islam is not the “opposite” of Judaism and just because something is Islamic does not mean that it relates in any way to Jews or the Jewish community.

Furthermore, it wasn’t even in the interest of those organizations to join the debate. The ADL lost out big-time–both morally and politically–by opposing the center’s construction, and while the AJC and J Street ended up on the winning side of the debate, this accomplished nothing for their causes.

The ADL is an organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry, so why did they advocate against building a religious community center? The AJC is a representative body of the Jewish community in Washington, but how did this have anything to do with the Jewish community? J Street is a lobby pushing a pro-peace agenda regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what did this initiative have to do with that conflict? Yes, the initiative’s leaders are Muslim, just like the Palestinians, but you don’t see J Street commenting on every American domestic Islamic issue, nor on every Jewish one.

I know Jews like to debate, and I appreciate that our community stays informed about key local and national issues. That doesn’t mean, however, that every major Jewish organization should be issuing public statements about every hot news issue–even if the key players in that news issue happen to share a religion with the people who live across the fence from Israel. Odds are the Muslim community in the US also has some organizations with official-sounding acronyms; let them do some talking on this one.

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9 Older Responses to “The Cordoba Initiative is Not Jewish”

  1. David A.M. Wilensky
    August 4, 2010 at 11:13 pm #

    It’s a Jewish issue because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. And we were also strangers here. We are a group of strangers who achieved great success in this country. And American Jews should see other groups of strangers, newer to our shores, struggling for their own success and we should want to help them achieve it.

  2. Ben Sales
    August 5, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    This issue does relate to core Jewish values but that doesn’t mean that Jewish organizations should be issuing public statements on it. Given the expansive scope of Jewish values, that would mean that these groups should be commenting on almost every national news issue, which they don’t; if they were to pursue such an impractical policy, it would turn their voices into watered-down reflections of Judeo-Christian values.

    There are Jewish organizations that pursue universalistic goals, and this issue would fall under their purview. And to be fair, the AJC’s mission statement does include supporting human rights and democratic values in the US, but we don’t see them issuing statements like this en masse about every issue of discrimination. J Street’s statement in particular surprised me, because nowhere in their stated mission of promoting a pro-peace Israel-Palestine policy and encouraging debate on that issue do they include support for domestic religious rights. And just because this issue involves Muslims does not mean it relates at all to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ADL’s total inconsistency on this issue has been duly noted by many other writers.

  3. Jordan Litwin
    August 5, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    I do believe the ADL has a place in this debate but I was shocked and disappointed by their position. The reason they have a justifiable reason to speak up here is that the response to this proposed construction has been vehemently anti-Muslim, and the very purpose of this center is to promote tolerance and understanding (the first being what the ADL fights against and the second what the ADL seeks to do itself). So I do believe they should have spoken up on the issue to speak against the first and for the second. Unfortunately, they took an absurdly hypocritical and flawed rationale on this one, which has severely damaged their reputation in the eyes of the public and showed just how deeply the majority of those involved in the ADL and the wider Jewish community disagree with Abe Foxman’s remarks even though he spoke as though he had their support.

  4. David A.M. Wilensky
    August 5, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    J Street is clearly out of their element on this one. As Jordan says, ADL should’ve been the first to jump into this, though on the other side from the one they stupidly chose. AJC is debatable. If they ADL retains any relevance after this, they’ll get rid of Foxman. His time has come.

    But I’d say that the struggle of the stranger in a new land is not just a core Jewish value, but the core issue in the identity of every Jewish community. It’s even damn near a Zionist narrative, returning to a land they barely recognized. Russians and Mizrachim having to join a new society they know nothing about. This isn’t just a Jewish value. It is THE Jewish narrative par excellence. To turn our backs on someone having the same experience is to forget who we are and how we got here.

  5. Ben Sales
    August 5, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    I would refrain from calling anything “the core issue in the identity of every Jewish community,” or “THE Jewish narrative” which are very general statements about an extremely diverse set. They also strike me as very reductionist. This reminds me of when people say that Judaism is “about” social justice, ritual, belief in God or any other one thing. Judaism, with its endless base of texts and traditions, is about all of those things and many, many more. To reduce Judaism to one thing does it a huge injustice and reflects a dangerous lack of nuance.

    Also, I never advocated “turning our backs” on anything. That’s a straw man. I think we should support the Cordoba Initiative and similar projects; I just don’t think those particular Jewish organizations should spend their time issuing public statements about it.

  6. David A.M. Wilensky
    August 5, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    Well then we’re just in disagreement on who should and shouldn’t weigh in on Cordoba/Park 51/not-Mosque that is not at Ground Zero.

  7. Evan
    August 7, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    When the ADL chimed in wrong, it was up to other Jewish organizations to chime in on the proper side, in order to save face. The world we live in sees Jews as one solid bloc, not as many autonomous organizations.

    Also, when it is the right thing to do, you don’t always need a reason. Civil rights wasn’t a “Jewish issue”, either.

  8. David A.M. Wilensky
    August 7, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    Word, Evan. But. Other Jewish orgs have chimed in, but haven’t gotten the same press. The ADL decision was surprising, which is why it made news. The URJ, J Street, AJC etc positions on this issue aren’t surprising so they’re not in the news.

  9. Ben Sales
    August 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    Evan, you make a good point re: civil rights. I think, in retrospect, that my point was more that this shouldn’t really be a prime internal debate among Jewish organizations, and that Jewish organizations shouldn’t co-opt the focus of the debate. I think, of course, that Jews should support and be active in causes they believe in (such as civil rights, both then with blacks and now with Muslims and others) but I do still hold that issuing a bunch of public statements can do more to distract from their cause than help it, because it makes people pay more attention to the Jewish community and less to the people actually involved in the project.

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