Who Are These Others?

An Opinion piece by Rabbi Ira Youdovin [was originally published online] under a grossly misleading headline (not, I assume, of his choosing). There is no proposal for a mosque “at Ground Zero.” The mosque is planned for a neighborhood in lower Manhattan that already has a typical big-city mix of businesses. The Independent shouldn’t be framing a controversy by repeating a lie put forward by the side making the most noise.

As for the rabbi’s comments, they follow the typical media approach these days of granting equal weight to both sides in a political dispute rather than considering the worth of their actual positions. He claims, “There are powerful arguments on both sides,” but the only argument he invokes against building the mosque at this site (which, again, is not the site of the attack) involves an analogy to the convent at Auschwitz to which the pope responded by saying, “This is not your place, it belongs to others.” Who are these “others” to whom the 9/11 site belongs? The United States was attacked, and the site belongs to all of its citizens, including those of the Islamic faith.

Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker has replied to the false Auschwitz convent analogy, saying, in part:

“The convent at Auschwitz was to be a purely Catholic institution, with none of the interfaith aspects or broad community-serving purposes that mark the Park51 project. … The papacy that failed to struggle against the horror of Auschwitz is the same papacy … that exercised ultimate authority over the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz. There is no such authority structure within Islam and no such institutional connection between Al Qaeda and the sponsors of Park51. Nor is there even an ideological connection. … The conflation of 9/11 terrorism with Islam per se—a conflation that is at the heart of the anti-Park51 campaign—is a huge, unearned, dangerous strategic gift to Al Qaeda. (And the American politicians and pundits who are busily giving the breath of life to this so-called issue are the biggest givers.)”

As part of his attempt to show that both sides are worthy of blame in keeping the controversy alive, Rabbi Youdovin constructs an especially appalling false equivalency between Newt Gingrich and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, accusing the latter of implying that if you’re against the mosque, “you’re a bigot.” In fact, Bloomberg made a significant effort to say the exact opposite: “There are people of good will on both sides of the debate. … I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith – including, perhaps, some in this room – who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate.”

If Rabbi Youdovin wants to encourage “reasoned, respectful discussion,” he can start by examining his own remarks.


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