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Boston mosque rises above the fray

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Local objections to mosque

Contracting for a property with the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 1999, the ISB got the land at less than market value (as have several religious entities), with the proviso that it provide certain services to the local community, such as maintaining a neighborhood park.

But after the 2003 groundbreaking, obstacles appeared. The Boston Herald and local Fox 25 TV published stories accusing ISB leaders of links to terrorism. A city resident filed a lawsuit challenging the discounted land sale as unconstitutional. The David Project (DP), a right-leaning, pro-Israel advocacy group, began to publicize the charges and seek public hearings. It later came to light (via subpoenaed e-mails) that members of the group had worked actively to instigate the lawsuit and news stories as part of their "strategies to attack the mosque."

In 2005, the ISB filed a defamation suit against the groups and media outlets. That led mainstream Jewish organizations to line up with the David Project and to say the lawsuit made it difficult to carry on any communication with the ISB.

As tensions mounted, the Interreligious Center on Public Life (ICPL), a joint venture of Hebrew College and Andover-Newton Theological School, invited an expert in conflict resolution, the Rev. Raymond Helmick, S.J., of Boston College, to lead an effort to bridge the divide.

"The ICPL's interest was in trying to head off community damage," says Father Helmick. "Our task force [which included well-known author Rabbi Har­old Kushner] worked for a full year to urge the parties toward mediation. The ISB was willing from the start, but the David Project resisted."

They insisted there was nothing to mediate. "The David Project rejected absolutely the suggestion there would be any limitation on their ability to raise questions about the funding and leadership of the ISB," says Jeffrey Robbins, the group's attorney.

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