Where ADL Went Wrong with Its Mosque Stance

Ancestors: Six Brothers Livingston

Livingston Family Photo undated (believed to be c 1896 to 1899) – Six Sons of Mayer and Dora Livingston (.b Meyer Y Dusschen [Blumenfeld] Lowenstein) Location unknown, but presumed to be in Bloomington, Illinois. Back Row (left to right): Irvin I. Livingston (my great grandfather), Alfred Livingston, Herman Livingston. Front Row (left to right): Sigmund Livingston (started the Jewish Anti Defamation League); Harold Livingston; Maurice Livingston.

We’ve all seen the news about the proposed mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center. Many feel that while there are constitutional and local ordinances that clearly permit such a building, that given the supposed fundamental stance of the Islamic funders and the feelings of 9-11 victims, the mosque should not be built. One such organization is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) with its stance. This brand failure should be reversed at the earliest opportunity.

To be clear, I have a personal stake – albeit a small one – in the ADL’s wayward position. Siegfried Livingston, my great grand uncle, founded the league in 1913.

The mission of the ADL is to prevent discrimination, in particular that of Jewish people. ADL’s own tag line says, “to secure justice and fair treatment of all.” While ADL’s current leadership may feel the mosque is in poor taste and offensive to current families, they have forgotten the principles in their own commitment to “counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.”

Principles cannot be compromised by situations. Arguments against the mosque — well intended or not — counteract first amendment rights and seek to use local ordinances to enforce segregation, similar to the Jewish Ghettos of pre World War II.

The real ADL principles demand that we cannot use type of religious worship in this would-be building — regardless of the historical impact of September 11, 2009 –as an excuse to prevent construction. These principles cannot be compromised! And ADL’s promise to the world is to fight for them.

Few Personal Experiences

Progress at Ground Zero 9-11

Lest I be considered insensitive about this matter, I’d like to offer a few personal experiences:

1) I live in the other 9-11 city, the one where the establishment doesn’t publicly remember the bombing of the Pentagon too often. I watched that building burn from my office tower in Tysons Corner. I knew people who carried the dead out of the Pentagon, and sat in fear in my Arlington home wondering if we were under attack.

2) My maternal grandfather Jean Bigar came to America because local Swiss officials told him to flee the Nazis marching through Switzerland on their way to bulwark Mussolini’s Italy. He was free to be a Jew here in the United States. He ended up moving back to Switzerland in time, but I am here because we as a country embraced religious tolerance.

3) In my own young life in Philadelphia, we lived in a suburban neighborhood — Glenside, PA — and suffered persecution, including a swastika painted on our door, our house egged, tires slashed, and regular bullying of my sister and I. We were persecuted for the faith of our ancestors.

I understand religious persecution, and I know the impact of 9-11. This is America, and the best way to demonstrate the strength of our principles and to honor the fallen victims of 9-11 who died unwillingly for this country is to let these people build their mosque. In spite of fundamentalist views. Otherwise we become what we fear the most, a country or group of people that will sacrifice principles (religious or humanistic) to achieve political outcomes.

The ADL needs to reverse its statement and go back to the principles it was founded on and meant to defend. Without unwavering commitment to principles, its brand can only suffer the decay of the untrustworthy. ADL has failed to live up to its commitments to the public, and, in my personal opinion, its founder SIegfried Livingston.