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Rabbi Hier responds to criticism of Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 24, 2008 | 5:17 pm

Last week I linked to a few recent op-eds critical of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s plans to build a Museum of Tolerance atop an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s dean and founder, wasn’t happy with either of the op-eds.

A spokesman, who passed along links to a fact sheet and excerpted passages from the Israeli Supreme Court ruling in favor of the center’s plans, said Hier intended to write a letter to The Forward regarding Buzzy Gordon’s column; he had already sent one to Haaretz, which ran Bradley Burston’s piece. Hier wrote:

What he deliberately hides from his readers is that the land was given to the Simon Wiesenthal Center by the government of Israel and the City of Jerusalem, who presented petitions to the Supreme Court in support of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem.

He also obscures the fact that the Simon Wiesenthal Center is not building on the nearby Mamilla cemetery, but on the adjacent site which, for nearly a half-century, served as Jerusalem’s municipal car park where every day hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims parked their cars. Electric cable and sewer lines were laid below the ground.

During all this time, not a single Muslim group or individual, including today’s most vociferous critics said a word in protest although as they argued before the Court they knew all along it was a cemetery, yet kept silent for a half-century.

As the Supreme Court concluded in its ruling, “Israel is a small strip of land, of great antiquity, with a history that extends over thousands of years… In our case, the area of the museum compound was separated from the Muslim Mamilla cemetery as long ago as the 1960s, and it was classified as an open public area… and it was made available for various kinds of planning activity. A multi-storey car park was built on it, a road was paved on it, and plans were made to construct multi-storey buildings on it.”

“For decades this area was not regarded as a cemetery by the general public or by the Muslim community… no one denied this position. Not only was the compound not identified as an area with religious sanctity… but it was the subject of planning for various purposes throughout decades, without any objection for reasons of the sanctity of the site.”

Furthermore, what Bradley Burston ignores is that when the design was completed, the model was on display at Jerusalem City Hall and newspaper ads were taken out and posted in the Hebrew and Arab press - again, no protest from any Muslim group whatsoever.

They were silent because, as the High Court said, “...the area has not been classified as a cemetery for decades.” The bones found during construction were between 300 and 400 years old. They were unaccompanied by a single marker, monument, or tombstone, family name or religion.

Read the rest here.

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