For years, the Simon Wiesenthal Center faced protests and lawsuits over its plans to build a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. The legal challenges, which had halted construction, faded last month after Israel’s Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in favor of the project. But the protests against the Los Angeles-based human rights organization continue. In fact, they have taken a new turn, spreading from the confines of Jerusalem to a wide array of groups in the United States.
Last month Israeli writers in Ha’aretz and The Forward sought to put the controversy on the broader American Jewish agenda. Here in Los Angeles, three Jewish leaders signed onto a letter from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that called upon the organization to stop construction of its Center for Human Dignity, a $250 million campus designed by Frank Gehry, which will include a museum, conference and education centers and a library and theater.
At issue is not the museum itself but the three-acre plot of land upon which it is being built.
For the past half century, the land, which was given to the Wiesenthal Center by the city of Jerusalem, has served as a multistory car park, where more than 1,000 Muslims, Christians and Jews parked daily.
But beneath the land lie Muslim remains that are hundreds of years old. Although the cemetery hasn’t been used in at least 50 years and has long since been declared mundras — no longer sacred — by Muslim authorities, critics of the Center for Human Dignity have charged the Wiesenthal Center with being intolerant in its quest to build a Jerusalem version of its West L.A. 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,” Hussam Ayloush, the director of the Los Angeles CAIR office, wrote in a letter signed by Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of the Progressive Faith Foundation, Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace and Rabbi Haim Beliak of Jews on First. (Full Story)