ADL STEPS AWAY FROM MESS IT HELPED CREATE…. The controversy surrounding the Park51 project in lower Manhattan has been disheartening, but perhaps no moment was as disappointing as the Anti-Defamation League’s statement in late July. The organization committed to combating bigotry and promoting respect for all people made the arguement that converting a clothing store into a community center would be “counterproductive to the healing process.” The Muslim American developers enjoy First Amendment protections, ADL added, but these are “unique circumstances.”

The organization’s position served to empower conservatives, who used ADL’s statement for cover. The debate quickly snowballed, and next weekend, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, right-wing activists will host a protest to denounce the Park51 proposal. Organizers have invited Geert Wilders, a notorious Dutch racist/politician/activist, to participate in the event.

ADL Director Abe Foxman told Adam Serwer yesterday that he disapproves of the protest, denounced Wilders, and expressed concern about the state of the discourse.

“The debate surrounding the Ground Zero mosque has surfaced, first, a campaign which is in many places directed against building mosques, and it also has focused attention on the anti-Muslim bigotry that exists in this country. It’s not new. It has been there. Part of the landscape, unfortunately, of America is that we’re not immune to bigotry, to racism, to anti-Semitism. And part of what’s out there is a bigotry to immigrants. Jews experienced it, Irish experienced it. Part of our history is there was opposition to building Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues. Now there’s opposition to build mosques, and there is, in our landscape, bigotry.

“Some of it is beneath the surface, and some of it in moments of crisis explodes. That’s what we’re seeing now. There seems to be a legitimacy that it’s okay now to speak out and act out against Islam, and that’s why this rally, on this very tragic day for Americans, but most tragic for those who lost their families, to use it and abuse it as a platform for bigotry, is not only tragic, it’s un-American.”

It’s a welcome sentiment — though it’s well past time to retire the phrase “Ground Zero mosque,” since it doesn’t make any sense — and I’m glad to see ADL re-claim its traditional role, taking a firm stand against hatred and discrimination.

But I also hope that Foxman and other ADL leaders appreciate the fact that they helped contribute to this toxic climate by announcing their opposition to the Park51 proposal in the first place. The ADL position emboldened the right, and contributed to this fiasco in exceedingly unhelpful ways.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.