The Conspiracy

American Jews and Park51: Tell Us How You Really Feel

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.

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11 Older Responses to “American Jews and Park51: Tell Us How You Really Feel”

  1. lea
    September 16, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    the opposite.imam rauf was plotting his deception mano a mano
    with jewish upper west side friends
    corruption is a global disease
    however jewish capital stronger to impose and lead
    muslim imam accepted a murky deal for profit
    not for divine reasons as he pretends to deceive us
    thankgod! without success.

  2. Ben Sales
    September 16, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    Also, you should note that the American Jewish Committee, which tries to be a more ecumenical respresentative of America’s Jews, came out in support of Park 51.

  3. Brandon Springer
    September 16, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    It is true that David Harris of AJC came out in favor of the Park51, but not unequivocally. His demand that Imam Rauf (once again) denounce terrorism and reveal the sources of funding for the project (implying nefarious funding sources) are both problematic and perpetuate the conservative standpoint. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that AJC came out in favor of Park51, but it’s still problematic and doesn’t quite fit the majority opinion of American Jewry.

  4. K2K
    September 16, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    Brandon Springer should be careful with his “facts.” Read the ADL statement – nowhere does it tell “Rauf to take Park51 elsewhere.”
    You are an embarrassment to the concept of truth in what is an extremely complex controversy in which many Muslims oppose Rauf’s plan. Rauf is not an Imam except because he says so, he does not represent any Muslim congregation. The actual owner of the site, SoHo Properties, is being evicted from their offices this week due to unpaid back rent for the second time. Rauf has been sued by Union City, NJ for gross mismanagement of two rental properties.

    Before you weigh in with an attack on Jews, you should do some serious research into the three people who do seem to spend most of their time exploiting tax loopholes, and being slumlords.

    If you can not do your homework, do not use the internet to wrongfully accuse others. This post is no different from the slanders on Dreyfus. J’ Accuse!

  5. Brandon Springer
    September 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    “Debate Heats Up About Mosque Near Ground Zero,” New York Times, July 30, 2010:

    “‘It’s the wrong place,’ Mr. Foxman said. ‘Find another place.’

  6. K2K
    September 16, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    Abe Foxman is correct. However, taking his comment in response to an interview out of the context denies the intent of the original ADL statement.
    “…out of a baby-blue sky suddenly stained with smoke, a plane’s landing-gear assembly the size of a World War II torpedo crashed through the roof and down through two empty selling floors of the Burlington Coat Factory.

    The Sept. 11, 2001, attack killed 2,752 people downtown and doomed the five-story building at 45 Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center, keeping it abandoned for eight years.

    But for months now, out of the public eye, an iron gate rises every Friday afternoon, and with the outside rumblings of construction at ground zero as a backdrop, hundreds of Muslims crowd inside, facing Mecca in prayer and listening to their imam read in Arabic from the Koran.

    The building has no sign that hints at its use as a Muslim prayer space, but these modest beginnings point to a far grander vision: an Islamic center near the city’s most hallowed piece of land that would stand as one of ground zero’s more unexpected and striking neighbors.

    The location was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims who bought the building in July. A presence so close to the World Trade Center, “where a piece of the wreckage fell,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.”

    “We want to push back against the extremists,” added Imam Feisal, 61.

    No one ever asks Rauf to speak out against suicide bombers in Pakistan. He refused to sign a petition that opposes the death sentence for Muslim apostates. No one has ever asked Feisal Rauf why he is affiliated with, the primary financial sponsor of “Free Gaza” flotilla, excluding the Turkish sponsored Mavi Marmara. No one ever asks Rauf what he does when he is at his home in Malaysia, which is where he was from May through August, 2010.

    This is a very complex issue, and Abe Foxman and Martin Peretz should not be demonized in a magazine for Jewish college students, unless New Voices is dedicated to the one-state solution and the end of a Jewish State of Israel. If that is the case, then shame on you for not learning history.

  7. K2K
    September 16, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    Brandon, The New Republic has had more than twenty blogs about the Mosque at Ground Zero aka Cordoba House aka Park51 since the ADl statement in late July. Peretz, Chait, Chotiner, Gerecht, Gitlin – all had multiple posts. We have covered every angle of this controversy. You picked up on Peretz’s statement from reading Greenwald or Kristof, not from reading all the posts and lenghty comment strings.

    But you are very good at getting this post to pop up everywhere in google today.

    BTW, I am an historic preservationist, and object to anyone tearing down the last remaining building in Manhattan that preserves the legacy of Paul Spofford and Thomas Tileston, on a tax lot that traces almost 400 years of NYC history. 45 Park Place is also the only building that survived a direct hit on 9/11/2001. It should be a museum showing the layers of Manhattan history, from the forests of 1609 to 9/11/2001.

    For believeing that, people like you call me a bigot. Shame on your entire generation for being so ignorant.

  8. Jay
    September 17, 2010 at 3:44 am #

    u think all jews are liberals? nice try. many youg jews r orthodox

  9. Also
    September 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Check out J Street U’s related petition, entitled Stand Strong Against Islamophobia:

  10. K2K
    September 18, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    J Street should worry more about antisemitism in America. More than 60% of hate crimes in America are against Jews, even higher in New York City.

    “Islamaphobia” is an invention of the left, who think Hamas are post-colonial freedom fighters whose published Charter is not really serious when it calls for an Islamic Caliphate from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, and gives Jews living in Israel two choices: submit to dhimmi status under Islam or die.

    This article is solely an attack on Jews who support the concept of Israel as the nation-state for the Jewish people, a concept that NO Palestinian will ever recognize. Why? Read the Koran to understand. Look at the maps throughout the Palestinian areas, and in every Palestinian textbook. Israel does not exist.

  11. Harpo Jaeger
    September 20, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

    K2K: No one ever asks Rauf what he does when he is at his home in Malaysia, which is where he was from May through August, 2010.
    And why should they? It’s his home! Just because he’s building a community center doesn’t mean he should be grilled about everything he does in his spare time. If he has the right to build there (which he does), he has the right to build there.
    “Islamaphobia” is an invention of the left..
    In that case, I’ll probably have to search hard and cherry-pick my sources to find a good example of it. Oh, wait…
    K2K one paragraph later: Read the Koran to understand.
    That just about says it all.

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