Sunday, January 31, 2010
Rabbi Marvin Hier
Dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center
Los Angeles, Ca.
Delivered to: Oded Barry, Attorney
Dear Rabbi Hier,
You and I are not enemies. What you do and what I do come from the same place, even if we end up with very different conclusions. I am a Jew, and an Israeli (by choice) and a Zionist. My life’s work for peace between Israel and her neighbors comes from who I am and my life’s experiences, as a Jew, a Zionist and an Israeli. I am entirely motivated by my love for our people, our land and our Holy city, Jerusalem.
I live in Jerusalem and I love this city. I have always believed that we, the Jewish people, have the possibilities to disprove the theory of Samuel Huntington of the inevitable clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. I honestly believe that in Jerusalem we have the possibility, perhaps the only possibility in the world, to prove that the three monotheistic civilizations can not only live in peace, we can actually create a celebration of diversity – learning about each other and fostering not only true tolerance but even a sense of appreciation for each other’s religions, customs, rituals, and cultures.
This is possible only if we first learn to respect the sacred spaces of each other in this wonderful city. This is why I have been so passionate in my objection to the location selected for the Center for Tolerance in Jerusalem. I think that the idea of a real center for tolerance in Jerusalem could be the “flag ship” for fostering the vision of Jerusalem as the world’s center for the celebration and appreciation of diversity. The Center for Tolerance in Jerusalem could potentially be one of the most important and compelling places of learning in the entire world to which the world will turn to seek wisdom about how to make peace and how to live in peace. This is a great vision, one that I would be pleased to be associated with. But that vision will never be achieved if the Center for Tolerance is built on its current location. It will never be accepted by the world as a center for tolerance and will always be considered a scar on the very fragile tissue of Jerusalem’s face.
The need to scale down the project and Frank Gerhy’s exit from it create an opportunity to turn this project around. I have no interest in you losing face or in crediting this as a victory to the Arabs and the Muslims. I have never joined forces with the Islamic movement on this issue and we have tried all along to present our argument as a Jewish and Israeli one. I think that there are ways that we can work together to move the Center to a different location without appearing to have given in to unreasonable demands from extremist Arabs and Muslims.
I believe that the Jerusalem Municipality and the Mayor would be willing to work with you to find an alternative suitable location and find the appropriate explanation why the Center is being relocated.
I am making a commitment to work with you to gain the full support and cooperation of the Palestinians Muslims and Christians inside of Israel and in the Palestinian Authority area to work with the Center to foster the goals of tolerance and understanding. I am more than willing to work with you to gain the support of the Muslim world for this important project as well. This can really be an historic undertaking with achievements far beyond what would be possible if the Center is built in its current location.
I beg you to reconsider your options. You have won the battle. The Israeli Courts and Government Authorities are on your side. We, those who have opposed your plans have lost. But we can all come out winners, and more importantly, the City of Jerusalem, the Jewish people and the State of Israel can come out as winners if you accept the proposal to move the Center to a different acceptable location.
I appeal to you, let’s work together to make a real positive contribution towards peace, understanding and real tolerance.
Dr. Gershon Baskin
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.