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.

13 Replies to “Where ADL Went Wrong with Its Mosque Stance”

  1. Geoff, I am in full agreement that the mosque should be built, speaking as a Jew with a father from Israel. I seriously wonder if we’ll ever become a country that doesn’t vilify some group of people for whatever reason. Whether it be African-Americans, Japanese people during WWII, Jewish ghettos, Muslims post-9/11, Latinos during the current immigration reform debate, etc. I don’t think the hatred for Muslims in this country will be as pervasive forever, but I wonder if I’m naive to think that we might be able to stop finding whatever reason to hate groups of people.

  2. Saw a dead-on tweet related to this earlier, from @AngryAfrican….

    “The ‘mosque controversy’: It’s not about whether it IS right. It is whether it is A right.”

    We may not like it, and we can say it’s inappropriate/insensitive, but their right to build there is fundamental to our nation’s values.

    This would not be such a fuss if it were a Mormon or Buddhist temple, either.

  3. Amen, Geoff. Its NOT America if wealthy belligerent pundits’ loud voices can negate the principles upon which we were founded. Osama Bin Laden was enraged by America’s building military bases on his holy land, Saudi Arabia. One of the linchpins of his belief is that American desecrated holy ground, we deposited infidels, nonbelievers on their holy ground. The WTC land is, in ways, our holy ground. But its in America. And American laws abide. I agree with Sheila, the ‘mosque controversy’ might not be ‘right’ but it is ‘a right’. Not all Muslims are responsible for 9/11, and the Muslim faith is not responsible for 9/11, just as not all Japanese were responsible for Pearl Harbor and not all Japanese should have been interned in prisons in California. Its important that we, of the internet age, step up and protect what’s left of America after the Patriot Act, and this is one of those moments to step up and protect what makes America America…

  4. Thanks for writing this, Geoff, which involved a level of moral courage I am not seeing in the heated rhetoric around this issue. Principles are everything, you are right, all tied up with trust and honor. It is baffling to me that a country built on religious freedom should be now discussing whether we mean religious freedom…for some people.

    I live in Manhattan, where I pass the tragic site of 9/11 all the time. And what I’m hearing from everyone I know is that we want to move on from hate. New York is ethnically vibrant and we already have every possible form of houses of worship. Another will just blend into the complex mosaic of life here.

  5. Geoff, I believe we are related. My great grandfather was Herman Livingston. His wife I believe was Bertha Livingston, My mother was Betty Livingston. I have been a professnal writer for some 25 years and I believe like you the Mosque should be built. Religious freedom, no matter how we might feel about that religion, is what brought our family to these shores…and no doubt what brought many moslems to the same shores. No people on earth have experienced what Jews have and certainly of all people we should be the most tolerant…

  6. This is great! Michael, I know we are already corresponding on the side, but yes, we are related. When I posted the above photo, Ziggy’s line reached out to me directly, and I am meeting Richard Livingston for baseball this Saturday. How cool is this?

  7. Very very cool…You see my brother, father and mother all died within 4 years of each other leaving me with only a few relatives left. And to know there are others out there, and especially ones whose social and cultural perspectives are compatible, really makes me happy. I am not sure how I am related to Richard but I have heard that name for most of my life and perhaps met him once. I grew up in Beverly Hills and it would be great if you would ask him if he remembers my mother and father, and perhaps even me. I feel embarassed to even ask this, but was my grandfather Herman or Maurice, would you know? If not Richard will I think.
    Where do you live? Presently I am in Guatemala. I am involved in the produce business and came to Guatemala for a company I worked for. Now no longer. The owner was born again, whose ranting and ravings about Obama being black, coupled with a severe drinking problem, forced a split after I built his company to more than 100 million. So now I work for the growers. Very rewarding because I have helped put 15,000 people to work on our program and by the end of next year we hope to have 25,000 on the payrolls, lifting people out of poverty and giving them a reason to get up in the morning. Sorry to carry on but in some way it is all connected, a Jew here in a Catholic country, working to help better their lives, its all about tolerance…and your views drew me to this new family connection. thank you

  8. Geoff, thank you sharing this post with us. I being and American Muslim really appreciate your support. From my perspective the mosque should be built, if it does not it symbolizes to the world that America does not stand for laws and rights of its citizens. The optics here is much worse than most of us thinks. This is a time when we need to put our emotions aside and lead!

  9. Amra Tareen, you and every Moslem has the right to pray and build houses of worship as you see fit…When America stops any religion from pursuing their our religious beliefs, and to have a place of their choice to practice them, then we are no better than a 3rd world dictatorship. To me is very sad that the majority of Americans see somehow that this is disrespectful to those who died in the 9/11 attacks…perhaps if they could come back from the dead they too would say dont make our deaths seem in vain…this is still America and America was founded on the basis we are home to all…I pray that the mosque is allowed to go forward because as a Jew with a keen sense of history I know that once one mosque is stopped, then what is next? Where and will that precedent stop…lets hope that reasonable judgement prevails…

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