NEW YORK (JTA) — The head of the Manhattan JCC is advising the effort to build an Islamic cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero.
Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, is calling on Jewish and Christian institutions to accept the couple behind the project. She discussed her institution’s connection to the project in an appearance Sunday on ABC’s This Week With Christiane Amanpour. She appeared alongside Daisy Khan, the wife of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, who is the religious leader associated with the controversial project, which will include a mosque.
“The JCC has invited Daisy and the imam to come speak at the JCC in September, and I hope that we’ll be able to do that," Levitt said on the program. "They’ve certainly accepted our offer, and I hope that JCCs and other community centers in the Christian and Jewish community and in the secular world will come to do that, because clearly what this whole controversy has unleashed is a tremendous amount of misinformation, lack of knowledge about Islam that we need to address.”
Levitt confirmed that the JCC has been advising Khan and Rauf. “Well, we got a call from Daisy when they began to think about this project, and said we want to build an MCC just like the JCC,” Levitt said.
Many Republican lawmakers and several Democratic ones, a slew of conservative pundits and some people who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks oppose the project, saying that opening a mosque so close to Ground Zero is a slap in the face to those who died there and their families. Some of the opponents also argue that the symbolic location of the project will embolden anti-American Islamic forces.
Khan said that when she and her husband begin to raise money for the estimated $100 million project, they will be seeking more advice from Levitt and the JCC.
“Well, this is where my counselor on my right is helping us, because our funding is going to pretty much follow the same way that JCC got its fund raising,” Khan said. “First, we have to develop a board. Then the board is going to have a financial committee, fund-raising committee, that will be in charge of the fund raising.”
Many critics of the project express concern that the money to pay for the Islamic cultural center might come from overseas sources with ties to terrorism. Khan said that she and her husband have pledged to work with U.S. authorities to alleviate such concerns.
In the interview, Levitt slammed former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich — one of the most prominent critics of the project — for comparing the project to Nazis putting up a site next to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. She also invoked periods in early American history when some colonies outlawed the building of synagogues.