Holding signs that stated “AJU Students against the Museum” and “Yeshiva Bochers for Coexistence,” a handful of American Jews joined a protest Thursday in front of the former Muslim cemetary that is now the construction site for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.
For the past 50 years, the site has been home to a four-story municipal carpark, and the cemetery has long since been declared mundras—no longer sacred—by Muslim authorities. But critics of the project have charged the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center with being intolerant in its quest to build a Jerusalem version of its West L.A. museum.
In addition to students from American Jewish Univesity and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Thursday’s protest included Anat Hoffman, executive director of Israel Reform Action Center; Hanna Siniora, co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information; former Jerusalem City Councilman Meir Margalit; and Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston.
“As a Jewish educator, it is very difficult to take the SWC seriously when they disregard the principle of coexistence fundamental to their educational mission,” Joel Abramovitz, one of the protestors and a student at L.A. campus of HUC-JIR, said in a statement.
“Homes are demolished in Silwan, families are evacuated in Sheikh Jarrah. These injustices are all part of efforts to erase the heritage and presence of Palestinians in the state of Israel,” said Alana Alpert of Los Angeles. “The SWC has become unintentionally complicit, and therefore American Jews are complicit, in this unholy project.”
The museum land was gifted to the Wiesenthal Center by the city of Jerusalem. Protests and lawsuits soon followed. But last fall, Israel’s Supreme Court sided with the Wiesenthal Center, ruling that the site was no longer recognized as a cemetery and was not connected to the adjacent Mamilla cemetery. Construction crews have been busy since and have almost completed the foundational work.
“Those who think we are going to move the museum are living in a fantasy world,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said on Friday, March 3. “The Museum of the Tolerance project in Jerusalem will go forward on the former municipal carpark. And from our point of view, the people of Jerusalem will get a lot more from the Museum of Tolerance on that site than from seeing 1,300 cars parked there everyday.”