Jews who call themselves "progressive" and are overwhelmingly in favor of building a $100 million Islamic center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero need to explain why, 26 years ago, "progressive" Jews were just as adamant in opposing the Catholic convent that was built near Auschwitz.
In 1984, nuns belonging to the Carmelite order of the Roman Catholic Church built a convent outside of Auschwitz. It seemed to the nuns and their many Catholic supporters that this was a beautiful gesture — nuns praying at Auschwitz. It never occurred to them that this could possibly offend anyone.
But it did offend. This was hallowed space to Jews, the argument went. "Progressive" as well as traditional and religious Jews objected vigorously.
The pope at the time, John Paul II, agreed with the Jews and did something as noble as it was difficult. He asked the Polish nuns, his sisters in faith as well as in nationality, to vacate the convent and shut it down.
To the best of my knowledge, no New York Times editorials criticized anyone opposed to the convent as anti-Catholic, and no "progressive" Jews called the movement to remove the convent "intolerant" or "bigoted."
Yet when it comes to opposition to an Islamic center many times larger than the convent two blocks away from where nearly 3,000 innocent Americans were slaughtered by murderers acting in the name of Islam, "progressive" Jews and others are vociferous in their condemnations of those seeking a change of venue.
The question is: Why?
Why was it right to take Jewish sensibilities into account and move the convent from Auschwitz but not take American sensibilities into account and move the proposed Islamic center?
I have not heard any "progressive" answer this question.
Rather, supporters of the Islamic center attack conservatives and Americans generally for their bigotry, intolerance and xenophobia (for example, the recent cover of Time magazine: "Is America Islamophobic?")
And they tell us over and over that in America all people have the right to express their religious beliefs — even though no one is challenging the legal right of Muslims to build this center.
So, then, with no "progressive" explanation forthcoming, I will venture some possible explanations as to why "progressive" Jews opposed the convent near Auschwitz but not the Islamic center near Ground Zero.
First, in the convent situation, Jewish sensibilities were involved. Perhaps "progressive" Jews relate better to Jewish hurt than to the pain of others, even other Americans.
Second, Jewish "progressives" do not trust Christianity in general and the Catholic church in particular. Left-wing Christians are exempted from this antipathy, but the Polish nuns did not quite fit the description of "progressive" Christians.
Third, the combination of right-wing and Christian/Catholic is a particularly odious one to "progressives," especially Jewish ones. Hatred of the right, especially the religious right, animates "progressives" more than anything else; and in the convent case, the right was perceived as siding with the nuns, while in the Islamic center episode, the right is largely lined up against the Islamic center.
Fourth, whereas "progressives" are quite willing to criticize Christians and Christianity, they do not criticize Muslims or Islam. One reason may be that they fear antagonizing Muslims far more than they fear antagonizing Christians. A "progressive" artist put a crucifix in urine, titled it "Piss Christ," and museums around the country displayed it. He and the museums knew that no Christian would lay a hand on them. But they also know that criticism of Islam — even of the most legitimate and respectful kind — can get them killed. That is why Yale University Press, an elite "progressive" institution, refused to publish the Muhammad cartoons — in the book it just published about the Muhammad cartoons.
Fifth, the "progressive" defense of Muslims against any criticism — even if it comes from the usually "progressive" Anti-Defamation League — may also emanate from another factor. Given that significant parts of the Islamic world are opposed to increased American and Christian influence in the world, many "progressives" around the world — who likewise oppose increased American and Christian influence — find themselves frequently allied with the Muslim world.
If none of these explanations is valid, "progressives" need to offer better ones for why they deemed it noble to force nuns from near Auschwitz but ignoble to ask the Islamic center to move from near Ground Zero. And remember: Far more Poles were murdered at Auschwitz than Muslims at Ground Zero, and the slaughter at Ground Zero was perpetrated in the name of Islam, while the Holocaust at Auschwitz was not perpetrated in the name of Catholicism or Christianity.
The saddest part of all this is that it is part of a pattern — the reluctance of "progressives" to acknowledge that there are good people on both sides of issues. I and other opponents of this Islamic center near Ground Zero readily assert that there are good people on both sides. But in this dispute, as in many others, this is apparently considerably easier for conservatives to do than for "progressives."
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.