French multimedia mogul Jean-Marie Messier will spearhead a five-year project to build a European Museum of Mutual Respect in Paris, modeled largely on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance.
The chairman and CEO of Vivendi Universal announced plans for the museum while accepting the Wiesenthal Center's 2002 Humanitarian Award at its national tribute dinner May 2 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
At the same event, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, presented plans for a New York Tolerance Center.
The youthful-looking, 45-year-old Messier focused on his vision for the Paris museum and why it is needed at this particular time and location.
"Never before in our recent history, has there been such a need for a place such as this, a place of reflection, a place to remind us of the importance of mutual respect as we face an uprising of the extreme right in Europe, of racism and xenophobia everywhere," he said.
To get the project underway, Messier said he had already established contacts with Paris municipal authorities; Jose Maria Azner, current president of the European Union; Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Jewish organizations in Europe.
Acknowledging that he was not qualified to speak about Judaism, Messier said that nevertheless, he knew that "to be a Jew is to understand, deep in your bones and right through your heart, that intolerance is wrong. Absolutely wrong."
Preceding Messier's address, Hier screened schematics for the Wiesenthal Center's New York tolerance center, currently under construction in the old Daily News Building at 42nd Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.
The New York center, which is receiving some funding from the state legislature, the governor and the federal government, will serve a dual function. During the day, law enforcement officers and educators will participate in the "Tools for Tolerance program," which aims to sensitize "frontline professionals" to the problems of dealing with diverse ethnic and religious groups in a large city. In the evening, the facility will be used as a leadership training center for young people active in the Jewish community. A dedication ceremony is planned for next January, and Hier expects the facility to be in operation by the end of next year.
At the same time, plans are going ahead for a three-acre Wiesenthal Center-sponsored Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, with Frank Gehry as the architect. The center will bear the name Winnick Institute, in recognition of a $40 million pledge by Los Angeles business executive Gary Winnick toward the $150 million cost of the project (plus a $50 million endowment fund). Hier said Messier has shown an interest in supporting the Jerusalem center.
Among the museum's major goals are "to promote civility and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths and creeds."
Hier expects construction to start in about 12-15 months, after which it will take another two-and-a-half years to complete the project.