August 4th, 2010
09:02 AM ET
The Anti-Defamation League will not fight the building of a controversial Islamic center and mosque planned near the site of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York, the group's leader told CNN Wednesday.
The Jewish organization sparked debate last week by opposing what's come to be known as the "ground zero mosque" on the grounds that the controversy over it was "counterproductive to the healing process."
But following a ruling Tuesday that clears the way for the mosque to be built, "we're not continuing to fight it. We raised an issue ... but once the community board ruled, we move on," Abraham Foxman told CNN's "American Morning."
He was speaking a day after New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission eliminated a hurdle to the construction of the Islamic center two blocks north of the site of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
The commission denied landmark status for a building already at the site, moving the community center and mosque a step closer to reality. The existing building is owned by the Cordoba Initiative, a Muslim outreach group, and already serves as a site where prayer services are held.
The group wants to demolish the existing structure and build a "$100 million, 13-story community center with Islamic, interfaith and secular programming, similar to the 92nd Street Y," the Cordoba Initiative website says, referring to the cultural institution on the upper east side of Manhattan.
The project calls for a mosque, a performing arts center, gym, swimming pool and other public spaces.
The ADL, which exists to fight discrimination, especially anti-Semitism, said last week that building the mosque at the site "will cause some victims more pain - unnecessarily - and that is not right."
At the same time, its backers had "every right to build at this site," the organization said. "The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong."
On Wednesday, Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, compared the controversy to the battle over building a convent near the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.
"We were opposed to it," Foxman said of the Carmelite order's plans in the 1980s. "Many called us bigots, saying we were anti-Catholic, anti-Vatican, anti-Christian. So finally Pope John Paul II stood up and he said, 'You know what? They're right.' And he moved the convent a mile outside of Auschwitz."
He suggested he would like a similar solution in New York.
"We're not challenging rights. We're asking, is this the right thing to do?" he said Wednesday.
He denied that that stance made him a bigot, although he said some opponents of the mosque were indeed prejudiced.
"We're not going to fight it," he said. "We're going to be there to fight bigotry."
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