Former Democratic New York City mayor Ed Koch tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD that he supports the legal right to build mosque near Ground Zero but believes the mosque is "insensitive" to 9/11 survivors and their families.

In a phone interview this afternoon, Koch said: "From the very inception of this controversy, I have said that every religious institution is to be treated equally. And if a church or a synagogue could be situated on that plot of land, then a mosque can as well. I understand the anger of the survivors and the relatives of those who died, but there is a United States Constitution, which guarantees equality for all religions." Koch cited the historical intolerance against Catholics and Jews in the United States.

"There is no room for discussion" on the legal question, Koch told me. "It's insensitive for those who have suffered loss and object, but the people who want to build the mosque have that right and nobody should stand in the way legally--stand in the way seeking to stop them legally."

When asked whether it was, then, okay for critics of the mosque to raise objections, not based on legal grounds, Koch emphatically said, "Of course! You have a right to say 'it's insensitive and I don't like it.'" But those in favor of the controversial project "have an absolute right to say we're going to build it."

Koch was critical of the Anti-Defamation League's statement on the Ground Zero mosque. Citing his "great admiration" and "close friend[ship]" with Abe Foxman, the head of the ADL, Koch said, "Occasionally he can make a mistake. On this, he's made a mistake."

Koch told me that he had "read everything on the subject." So I decided to ask him about the controversial lobbying group J Street's statement in support of the Ground Zero mosque. "Well, J Street makes mistakes everyday," Koch said with a hearty laugh.

The mosque is sponsored by the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society of Muslim Advancement (ASMA), both of which were founded by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. As Stephen Schwartz has reported, Rauf has come under fire for his "refusal to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization," his dubious associations with Islamist sympathizers, and shady dealings he's undertaken to guarantee funding for this project.

On Imam Rauf's shady history and dealings, Koch said: "I haven't the slightest idea. But whether he's a moderate or immoderate, if he violates the law, the DA should go after him, and upon conviction, put him in jail."

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