About 20 religious leaders and activists gathered on the street in lower Manhattan today where the mosque is to be built. They said the Cordoba Initiative, the group sponsoring the cultural center, was welcome in New York.
"We need this Islamic center to preach love and respect in contrast to those who preach hate and destruction," Rabbi Richard Jacobs of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., told reporters.
The rabbis said controversy surrounding the project, which will include a space for prayer, is rooted in intolerance against Muslims.
"Many people still think of Muslims as terrorists," Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, co-chair of Rabbis for Human Rights, told AOL News today in New York. "My hope is that a center like this will help people understand that not all Muslims are violent."
The rabbis also denounced the words of the Anti-Defamation League. The Jewish organization said last week that it would not support the mosque out of respect for the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks who oppose the project, and because of concerns about whether the Cordoba Initiative has ties to terrorism.
In a statement, the ADL said that "building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain." The statement also said the public has a right to know "what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values."
Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia said the ADL is wrong on the issue, and told reporters he greeted the group's position with "sadness and surprise."
Critics of the project, many of them family members of victims in the Sept. 11 attacks, say the center would be an insult to those who died just blocks away at the World Trade Center at the hands of Muslim extremists. But the Cordoba Initiative cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when a New York City panel voted not to label the building designated for the project a historical landmark, paving the way for construction.
Daisy Khan, the executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and one of the project's sponsors, was at the rally as well, but declined to address criticism of the project or respond to any questions. She said bridging the gap between the Muslim and Jewish community is "the task of this generation."