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Israeli court OKs Museum of Tolerance's controversial branch

October 29, 2008 | 12:42 pm

Frank Gehry-designed Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem

A Frank Gehry-designed museum can rise in Jerusalem on a site that was once a Muslim cemetery, Israel's Supreme Court ruled today, clearing the way for L.A.'s Simon Wiesenthal Center to build a Holy Land counterpart to its Museum of Tolerance on Pico Boulevard.

The $250-million project had been delayed since early 2006, when builders unearthed bones. Arab leaders in Israel sued to stop the project and were supported, in an unusual alliance, by some ultra-Orthodox Jews with firm beliefs against disturbing graves.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement Wednesday that "moderation and tolerance have prevailed." But Zahi Nujidat, a spokesman for the Israeli Islamic movement, decried the ruling as "clear religious and ethnic oppression," according to the Associated Press.

The Supreme Court's ruling requires museum builders to consult with Israel's Antiquities Authority on how to rebury any remains unearthed during construction and on creating a barrier between graves and the building's foundation. The court found that the cemetary dates back 300 to 400 years but fell into disuse after Israel gained statehood in 1948. The court said that since there had been no objections in 1960, when the city built a parking lot over part of the cemetery, it would not block construction of the museum on the same property.

The Wiesenthal Center had argued that Muslim religious authorities declared the cemetery abandoned in 1964. Opponents of the project questioned whether the abandonment was legitimate. Controversy over the project stirred as early as 2004, when a ceremonial groundbreaking for the museum took place with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attending.

Jerusalem tolerance museum's grand hall The Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance will not have the prominent Holocaust remembrance theme of its L.A. counterpoint because that would duplicate Israel's memorial, Yad Vashem. Instead, Hier said, the goal is to create "a great landmark promoting the principles of mutual respect and social responsibility." The 3-acre campus will include two museums, a library-education center, a conference center and a 500-seat performing arts theater. Gehry's design calls for structures of blue and silver titanium, steel, glass and golden Jerusalem stone.

In an interview last month, Hier told The Times that, with $115 million raised for the Jerusalem museum, construction could resume immediately upon a go-ahead from the Supreme Court. Asked whether he was concerned that the project could become a new flashpoint in the ever-volatile Arab-Israeli conflict, Hier predicted that "you'll have protests for two or three days," then things will go back to normal.

Ran Boytner, an Israeli-born archeologist who is director of international research at UCLA's Cotsen Institute for Archaeology and heads a cooperative Arab and Israeli effort to protect ancient sites, said last month that he was concerned approval of the Jerusalem museum could turn into "a galvanizing event ... because of the symbolic importance of who is building the building. This is the Museum of Tolerance."

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Top, artist's rendering of Frank Gehry-designed Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem; bottom, rendering of the museum's grand hall. Credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Comments () | Archives (13)

Yet another 'monument' in Jerusalem. I lived there for 4 years, and the city is loosing its cultural fabric in favor of overly ambitious and overly funded architects, builders and people with overly good intentions.

just it Jerusalem be!

Desecration of even the Palestinian dead, in the name of propaganda.

I just hope that most of the states, if not all, could reserve their cultural trait and keep their special point in making a decision on whether building or removing an architecture!

This is really pathetic and a hypocracy. It should be called the Museum of Intolerance

Most building sites in Jerusalem uncover bones while setting foundations. Jerusalem is a small city that has been steadily populated for 3,000 years so your going to have some bones anywhere you dig.

The problem of contractors covering up bones has gotten so bad that city officials now have secret as well as not secret inspectors that inspect building sites to spot contractors covering up bones as a single bone fragment triggers an immediate halt to construction that gets buried in red tape.

Most contractors avoid bidding for projects in Jerusalem as a result of the red tape associated with Jerusalem's archaeological signficance.

A special and very expensive insurance is often needed by contractors who operate in Jerusalem in order to cover their investment should construction be halted halfway into production which can set them back millions of dollars.

When Israelis and Arabs expand their houses in Jerusalem they often pay under the table to a contractor to get rid of any bones should he find any.

More people have probably been killed in Jerusalem then any other place in the world so of course there will be bones. The question is how many bones and whether or not it is a major cemetery or not.

You can probably bet that underneath those Muslim skeletons you will find Jewish skeletons as history has seen different groups build on top of one another as a result of laying claim to the city as well as a lack of space.

Most museums I've visited are an exploration of the past in one way or another.

It appears that the "Museum of Tolerance" is such a place. Tolerance is something that happened in the past, has become extinct, and it will be on display. Am I right?

I could pay a visit to a branch in New York or Los Angeles, but why would I now want to be associated with this institution in any way?

What is Hebrew for "Orwellian"?

For Israel to build a museum on a Muslim grave site and call it a Tolerance Museum is a contradiction of terms. The exterior of Frank Gehry's design for the museum looks as if could be made from distorted sections of the internationally condemned barrier now cutting through Palestine. Choosing a different site and actually using some of the dismantled wall as building material for the museum, along with just a few other changes in Israeli consciousness, and the museum might deserve the name Tolerance.

Tolerance as Webster's dictionary defines it is: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own.

Keep this definition in your mind as I discuss Israel's Supreme Court to allow the destruction of part of an ancient Muslim cemetary to allow for the building of a museum. And the museum's name; "The Museum of Tolerance". Go figure.

Just who is being tolerant here. Is it Rabbi Marvin Hier, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who said the museum was a sensible use of "derelict land". Is it he that is being sympathtic? Is it he that is indulging others in their disagreement that this cemetary should be afforded protection as a final resting place for thousands of, dare I say fellow human beings. Mr. Hier goes on to point out that only part of the graveyard would be demolished to make way for the new centre. Is this supposed to be another sympathetic statement. what would it matter if only a part of the cemetary be "demolished" if it be the part where your grandmother lay? This twisted sense of arrogance and self proclaimed hypocracy is akin to telling the mother who lost one of her children that it shouldn't bother her as she has another anyway! If it is only part of the cemetary they need anyway than it should be much, much easier for them to be TOLERANT and not use that part, wouldn't you think.

I can not think of anything sicker than the disregard being shown to the downtrodden, just plain average human beings, for the sake of another architectural marvel to arise from the trampelled hearts on which it's foundation will lay. Wait, yes I can; and that being the "Museum of Tolerance" being touted by Mr. Hier once again as, "a great landmark promoting the principles of mutual respect and social responsibility." The only tolerance I see is the continued tolerance of a land now called occupied terretories where the ones born there can not return and now their dead can not remain either.

In a land where an internationally condemned wall slashes through Palestine, I guess it all makes sense to me in the end. I see now that the museum is aptly named; as this museum, while stealing the final resting place of thousands of Muslims, does represent the final resting place of the now dead ideal of tolerance.

COME ON, PEOPLE!!! They're just the remains of people who have passed on. If you are a theist, then you believe their spirits have gone to other places/worlds/planes...if you are an atheist, you wouldn’t care. If you are an agnostic, you probably wouldn’t care, either. So, just give it a rest. If these idiotic cultures that promote large families continue to breed, there won’t be enough space on this planet for living beings, much less dead ones...

I am Israeli citizen and was living in Jerusalem for 11 years.

The museum is beautiful but to build it there... absolutely stupid idea.

This place always had a spirit of quiteness and melancholy. Just last Pesah I have been there and was taking pictures as everywhere in the city - but at some moment I felt reluctant to continue with fotos, so is the atmosphere surrounding old graves.

This is a unique piece of my city among those which teach lessons of respect to any faith (believe me or not, Jerusalem is a perfect place to develop this sense).

This is true that every inch of land in Israel contains buried artifacts or bodies. But we are talking about extant cemetry, no matter abandoned or not.

And it will destroy all the quieteness of Gan Haatzmaut (Independence Garden).
Actually, I have no idea, how the building may fit this space at all but to squeese everything else around.

Want to build this - build somewhere else.

A typical "out-of-head" project, destorying real alive tissue of the city for the sake of beautiful word.

We believe that the construction of such an institution on grounds once hallowed by human graves is arrogant, counter-productive and says that we have no respect for other religious beliefs and cultural traditions.
We honor our own Jewish cultural traditions and we expect that people, organizations and governments respect others. This is a most untenable situation and must be stopped.
Mary and Harold Cohen,
members of Temple Beth Zion
Buffalo, New York

This is surely negative publicity for Israel and what it stands for. I find it amazing that of all organzations the Wiesenthal center displays such ignorence for human relationships.

The moment someone critizises anything that has to do with either the Jewish state or her people, people will shout Anti semitism. The Jews are so sensitive when it comes to their own culture, yet they ignore the sentiments of others.

To: Roy from Atwater Village. I am glad I don't know you or your family.

It is a museum of hatred and oppression


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