NEW YORK -- In a reversal, an influential Jewish organization announced its opposition to a proposed mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan.
The surprising decision by the Anti-Defamation League
, reported by the New York Times
Saturday, is likely to inflame a months-long dispute that's become a national debate on freedom of religion and the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
The turn-around by the ADL, a mainstream group that had earlier denounced attacks on the proposed mosque as bigoted, may change the course of the battle over the planned $100-million, 15-story Islamic center and mosque
which is to include a house of prayer, a theater, a pool and a restaurant.
Up until now, New York City government officials, led by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg,
appeared ready to approve the project. Bloomberg has repeatedly defended it, saying, "Everything the United States stands for and New York stands for is tolerance and openness."
The mosque would rise only two blocks from the site where radical Muslims killed about 2,750 people, crashing two planes into the Trade Center towers. It is a place that is sacred ground to millions of Americans, but especially to the loved ones of the victims who haven't let the passage of nearly 10 years diminish memory of that day.
The debate expanded from intense town hall meetings in New York to national proportions when several Republican leaders and conservative commentators fueled opposition to it. Sarah Palin urged "peace-seeking" Muslims
to give up on the project, saying that it is an "unnecessary provocation." The GOP has produced a television commercial denouncing the plan, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich opposed it in speeches.
Here in New York, two Republican candidates for governor, Rick A. Lazio and Carl Paladino, have made the issue central to their campaigns against the Democratic nominee, the state's attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo.
The arguments against the mosque have engaged the American public. Polls show that a majority of Americans oppose erecting a mosque near Ground Zero.
The ADL's national director, Abraham H. Foxman, told the Times on Friday that his group came to the conclusion that the Islamic project was offensive to the families of the victims of the 9/11, and he suggested the center's backers look for a location farther away.