Saturday, July 31, 2010

The ADL’s Selective Sensitivity to “Sensitivities”

The Anti Defamation League has been pummeled by nearly everybody, including the liberal hawk Jonathan Chait in the New Republic and Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, for supporting the demand of Newt Gingrich and some rightwingers to move the Cordoba Islamic Center from its proposed lower Manhattan site. Under the guise of sensitivity to the victims of the 9/11 attack, it signs on to the religious bigotry of the Christian right.

But when it comes to the Simon Wiesenthal Center's building the Museum of Tolerance on the oldest and largest Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, the ADL has no problem backing the legal rights of the Wiesenthal Center and turning a deaf ear to the sensitivities of the Palestinian Muslims.

It wasn't always like that. When the Jerusalem Mammilla Cemetery controversy came up, the ADL first proposed suspending the construction of the Museum

The ADL believes that a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem can be an important institution for educating against bias and for respect and understanding. We trust that the same tenets that undergird [sic] the museum's mission will be applied to finding a resolution to address the concerns of the Muslim community and the families of those whose graves have been discovered…To do less would weaken the foundation upon which a museum of tolerance stands.

This sensitivity was at the time hailed by opponents of the Museum and was criticized, of course, by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Consistent? Not exactly. The ADL later reversed its position. According to its website,

Update: Following discussions in Israel, ADL withdrew its call for halting construction on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

So why is it ok to be sensitive to the feelings of some victims of al-Qaeda Jihadists (not Muslims, and, by the way, Muslims were also killed in 9/11). But it is not ok to be sensitive to the feelings of Palestinian Muslims?

Apparently for the ADL, the value of support for Israel trumps the value of religious tolerance.

Of course, the cases themselves are not comparable. One consists of building a Jewish museum (let's face it: the story of the Jews will play a big role in the Museum of Tolerance) on the top of one of the last visibly Muslim Palestinian landmarks in West Jerusalem, expropriated from the owners against their will. The other consists of building a mosque near a site that has nothing to do with it.

Perhaps some Christians are offended when those they consider to "Christ killers" wish to build a synagogue nearby? This sort of sensitivity we have to pay attention to?

I am waiting to see the following retraction on the ADL website.

Update: Following discussions in America, ADL withdrew its call to move the Islamic Center in lower Manhattan


lobewiper said...

This is another example of "moral particularism," or the selective application of moral principles based upon perceived self-interest rather than upon universal principles that include application to oneself even when the result is unwelcome. The hypocrisy involved often is quite evident, such as in the instances considered here. Thanks for this article.

Eyal said...

This is a very important piece, and well written! I especially love the link to the "Tolerance" Museum in Jerusalem, and the closing call. Tolerance cannot exclude Muslims and cannot be dependent on the interests of the Israeli state.
Did you happen to see the new documentary about the ADL? It is done by an Israeli, and is called "Defamation". I think this movie is "a must" for every Jewish involved in the struggle for tolerance.
I used parts of it here but there's also an English version of the film.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog. I am not Jewish (I'm Christian), but am a former 'Christian Zionist'. Several months ago I began questioning some of my assumptions and began some research into the history of the zionist movement and the founding of the State of Israel. I would appreciate it if you could recommend some books for me. So far I've read Laquer's A History of Zionism, Gelvin's The Israel Palestine Conflict, The Israel Lobby (Mearsheimer & Walt), and A Threat From Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism (Rabkin trans by Reed). What else would you recommend?

Jerry Haber said...


I saw Defamation in the spring, and I enjoyed it (though not all of it) Foxman should have retired a long time ago.

Former Christian Zionist anonymous, I would also recommend books by Avi Shlaim, Rashid Khalidi, Chaim Gans, and the important collection of the writings of Judah Magnes, Dissenter in Zion, by Arthur Goren. Norm Finkelstein's books, though polemical, cut through a lot of the hasbara stuff.

Aaron said...

Anonymous, I know you haven't solicited for general input but a few books I found very interesting were Simha Flapan's 1987 book "The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities" (out of print but available through Amazon's used book sellers) and Jeff Halper's 2008 book "An Israeli in Palestine". Flapan was an Israeli politician/historian whose book was probably the first of the New Historians who looked into the foundation years of Israel as Israeli state archives were opened in the 1980s. Halper is an American jew who made aliyah and later founded the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition. His book contains a brief history of Israel/Palestine but is most interesting to me as an explanation of how power is exercised/concealed in the occupied Palestinian territories through seemingly innocuous things like planning laws. It probably sounds drier than it is, Halper's book is an engaging read. Anonymous ~ I'm wondering if the incident on the Mavi Marmara was a catalyst for your questioning of assumptions about Israel/Palestine. If so you might be interested in the new anthology book "Midnight on the Mavi Marmara". I haven't read it yet (my copy is ordered) but it has a extraordinary lineup of contributors. It's available through OR Books who also published Finkelstein's latest book.

Stephanie said...

Dear Anonymous, I applaud your refreshing willingness to question old assumptions and to learn. I am ethnically Jewish but religiously a Quaker, and I'd like to recommend a book published by the American Friends Service Committee. It's called "When the Rain Returns: Toward Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel", and it's a compact yet comprehensive, fairminded and very readable handbook all aspects of the conflict. It was published in 2004, but since you are mainly interested in the history I think it will be useful to you. Good luck to you in your exploration. Stephanie