The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) can’t quit pushing anti-Muslim bigotry. The latest instance emerged in a peculiar fashion: in opposition to an anti-gay bill in Arizona pushed by religious conservatives.
The ADL landed on the side of liberals in opposing the legislation, which would have enshrined the rights of business owners to deny service to gays and lesbians if they justified it with their religion. But one of the reasons the ADL opposed the bill, which was eventually vetoed by the state’s governor, was the specter of Muslims using the legislation to discriminate against non-Muslims. Or as an ADL official put it:
“A Muslim-owned cab company might refuse to drive passengers to a Hindu temple.”
Slate‘s William Saletan was the first to report on how the ADL exploited Islamophobia to kill the bill:
If you want to kill legislation that protects the right of Christians to withhold business services from same-sex couples, here’s one way to do it: Don’t warn people about Christians. Warn them about Muslims…
The first reference to Muslims in the Arizona fight, as far as I can tell, came from the Anti-Defamation League in a letter to state senators and in testimony before a state Senate committee on Jan. 16. If the bill were to pass, the ADL’s assistant regional director told the committee, “A Muslim-owned cab company might refuse to drive passengers to a Hindu temple.”
The ADL’s comments sparked pushback from the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Arizona:
The Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-AZ) today called on the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to apologize for stereotypical statements made about Muslims during recent debate over Arizona Senate Bill 1062, which would have shielded businesses from lawsuits if employees acted on religious beliefs to discriminate against customers…
“It is unconscionable that a group purporting to defend civil rights would resort to religious bigotry to promote its political agenda,” said CAIR-AZ Board Chair Imraan Siddiqi. “The introduction of this stereotypical scenario gave way to the narrative that Muslims are in some way serial abusers of ‘religious freedom based denials of service,’ which is completely baseless.”
The ADL has been praised for fighting to build mosques in communities that didn’t want to see Muslims praying in their backyard. But the group has also legitimized anti-Muslim bigotry in a number of cases–most prominently when the ADL opposed the Park 51 Islamic center in lower Manhattan in 2010.
The opposition to the Park 51 mosque was no aberration. Donna Nevel and Elly Bulkin, two members of Jews Say No!, chronicled the ADL’s Islamophobia and attributed the bigotry to the group’s pro-Israel politics. Here’s part of what Nevel and Bulkin wrote last year:
In 2003, an ADL press release praised President George W. Bush for appointing Daniel Pipes to the board of the United States Institute for Peace. Pipes believes that “militant Islam” is “infiltrating America” and supports student monitoring of professors for their views on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  While the ADL commented on Pipes’ “important approach and perspective,” Muslim and Arab American leaders characterized his appointment as “a slap in the face for Islam” and described him as “a bigot” who “promotes fear and hatred of many communities, not just Arabs and Muslims…”
In the past decade, the ADL has been on the anti-Muslim side of three high-profile Islamophobic campaigns: the multi-year initiative to block the building of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center; an anti-Muslim smear campaign targeting educator Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the country’s first English-Arabic dual language public school; and Park51, the proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan.