Controversy has swirled for two years around the Simon Wisenthal Center’s plans to build a Museum of Tolerance, like that in Los Angeles, on top of a medieval Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. Protesters have been out in force since the Israeli high ruled last month that the $250 million facility could be built.
Yesterday, a columnist fro the liberal Israeli daily, Haaretz, editorialized that the museum’s planned location is:
“a testament, as well, to the principle that Israel’s only reliable natural resource is irony. The walled area is a construction site where a Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights organization dedicated to instilling the lessons of the Holocaust and combating hatred, is building a Museum of Tolerance and Center for Human Dignity atop an ancient Muslim cemetery.”
And today a coalition of Jewish peaceniks and the L.A. chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (that ought to fire up the Jewish right) wrote a letter urging Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s dean and founder, to withdraw plans for the Frank Gehry-designed museum:
“Building a ‘Museum of Tolerance’ atop the cemetery, unlike the admirable goal of furthering tolerance and understanding, will only add to the existing pain and suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, irreversibly damage relations between Muslims and Jews worldwide and sow new feelings of animosity and division for generations to come,” CAIR’s Hussam Ayloush wrote.
Some Muslims believe that the cemetery was once the largest Muslim burial ground in Palestine and serves as the final resting place of some of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions. Scholars hold that the cemetery is probably only a few hundred years old. Regardless, I’ve heard a lot more opposition to the museum than support. Add to the field of critics Buzzy Gordon, a former Israeli spokesman, who wrote a column today for The Forward titled “An Intolerable Spot for a Museum”:
Can a museum under the mantle of the Simon Wiesenthal Center stand up to comparisons with efforts in Europe to erect modern buildings on land that was once Jewish cemeteries or concentration camps? Imagine that kind of outcry!
Jerusalem is too fragile a place for a flamboyant building, however well-intentioned, that creates ill will among a significant sector of the population that shows no signs of accepting it. As one call to action put it: “The legal battle has been lost… we must move on to the political battle.” Is a so-called Museum of Tolerance worth turning the Holy City into a battleground once again, in the 21st century?