Why do the Jews hate Park51 (the so-called “ground-zero mosque” to be built on the shallow grave of the ever-mourned Park Place Burlington Coat Factory in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the site of 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center)?
Abe Foxman, Holocaust survivor and the world’s leading crusader against anti-Semitism, told Sufi Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to take Park51 elsewhere and that Holocaust survivors and 9/11 victims were entitled to irrationality and bigotry.
Marty Peretz, editor of the New Republic and descendent of Yiddish legend Y.L. Peretz, said Imam Rauf and his Muslim riff-raff were undeserving of First Amendment rights, David Horowitz said there were “troubling indicators of evil afoot” behind the support for the community center and Charles Krauthammer called Park51 sacrilege.
The Zionist Organization of America has come out against Park51 and AIPAC, the immensely powerful pro-Israel lobby, has remained conspicuously silent on the issue.
But wait! Perhaps American Jewry isn’t quite so unified against Park51. Perhaps I was wrong to generalize Jewish opinions of Islam.
Students at Brandeis, heeb central and Peretz’s alma mater, have come out en masse, outraged at their alum’s comments.
Jewish publications left and right are also showing support. Tikkun, Tablet, Forward, Jewcy and Zeek all published scathing and disappointed critiques of the ADL’s position. The Jewish Week, Paul Krugman, Alan Dershowitz, Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, J Street, the Jewish Labor Committee, Jeffrey Goldberg, the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinhart, writers for New Voices, and, of course, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are all among a host who understand that the question of supporting Park51 should be an easy one for American Jews.
Rabbi Kreimer wrote:
To my sensibility, the image of a Muslim community center going up in lower Manhattan is a sign of hope, a very real manifestation of faith in the future of America and of Islam. As a rabbi, I look forward to finding ways for American Jews to partner with American Muslims in building the kind of pluralistic society in which we all can flourish.
Jewdar over at Heeb, scoffed and told those offended by the mosque to “get a life.” And, always the court jester, John Stewart has reveled over the past weeks in the absurdity of the entire “controversy,” lamenting “painting the overwhelming majority of Muslims with a jihadi brush.”
From Heebsters to the intelligentsia, secular and religious, American Jews seem to support Park51. Gasp! Could it be true?
Foxman and Peretz realized that they, shall we say, made a faux pas, and have since done some major backpedaling. Peretz issued a backhanded apology (I embarrassed myself so now I’m sorry, but Muslim life is still cheap). Foxman and the ADL ramped up anti-Islamophobia efforts (c’mon, don’t be like that, we love Muslims!). Though Foxman hasn’t yet fully renounced his original position on Park51, the Village Voice blogs called the ADL’s slight reversal and condemnation of anti-Muslim rhetoric a “mensch thing to do.”
But, as we hopefully soon reach the end of this months-long election-year sideshow, it occurs to me that the response of American Jews to Park51 paints an important picture of American Jewish identity.
Those Jewish institutions that hold power in U.S. policy making (i.e. ADL, ZOA and AIPAC) no longer speak to the majority of Jews or their political identity. They haven’t for some time, and this “controversy” is indicative of that. The overwhelming Jewish dialogue and particularly Jewish responses to Park51 have not matched the institutional messages of Foxman or ZOA in character or content. There is a gaping canyon between the American Jewish zeitgeist and the politics of the Jews who might represent Jewish interests (or claim to represent Jewish interests) to those in power. We as young Jews should be increasingly wary of this gap.
Food for thought during this time of introspection as we approach Yom Kippur.