Image: Arthur Waskow
Frank Franklin II  /  AP
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, responds to questions at a rally in support of an Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center, on Thursday.
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updated 8/5/2010 5:50:24 PM ET 2010-08-05T21:50:24

A group of Jewish activists and community leaders voiced their support for a planned mosque near ground zero and said opponents, including the nation's leading Jewish civil rights group, are perpetuating misunderstandings about Islam.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center, joined about 30 other religious leaders and Jewish activists Thursday at the spot where the Cordoba Initiative hopes to build an Islamic center that will include a mosque, an athletic center, a culinary school and art studios. Waskow says the mosque will help people learn more about Islam.

"Whenever there has been bloodshed allegedly in the name of one tradition or another, it's necessary to say, 'That's not what that tradition is about,'" Waskow, 76, said. "The Cordoba Initiative will keep saying that is not what Islam is about."

The mosque and community center would be located two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. SoHo Properties, a partner in the effort, purchased the property for nearly $5 million. Early plans call for a 13-story, $100 million Islamic center, of which the mosque would be a part.

Big-name Republicans including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have criticized the plan, saying it is provocative for a mosque to be built so close to a spot where Islamic terrorists killed thousands. Former Rep. Rick Lazio, a Republican running for governor of New York, has questioned where funding for the project is coming from.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group known for advocating religious freedom, also opposes the project.

"This is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right," the ADL said in a statement. "In our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right."

Waskow, an anti-war activist who has criticized Israel and lobbied for an independent Palestinian state, said he was disappointed by the ADL's opposition of the Islamic center.

"I was really surprised that the Anti-Defamation League opened the door to that kind of hatred," he said. "That door must be closed gently and firmly."

On Wednesday, a conservative advocacy group sued to try to stop the project.

At the rally Thursday, the Jewish leaders prayed, sang and presented housewarming gifts to Daisy Khan, a co-founder of the Cordoba Initiative. They said hundreds of people have signed on online statement in support of the mosque.

Khan said the center "will be dedicated to peace, tolerance and mutual understanding," but would not discuss how the center will be paid for. She thanked the plan's supporters, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A city community board also voted overwhelmingly last spring to back the project, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has also said he supports it.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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