Santa Cruz Sentinel

Site a poor choice for Museum of Tolerance

We join Gershon Baskin and many Israeli peace and human rights groups in asking Rabbi Cooper, those who came to hear him, and those who placed his commentary in the daily paper in response to a column published in another local weekly, “What is compassion, what is tolerance, if not the ability to reconsider one’s own actions in the light of the ways in which they may injure others?” We add our voices to those who ask the Wiesenthal Center to stop the project immediately before more damage is done.

It is disappointing that Rabbi Abraham Cooper, representing the Wiesenthal Center for Tolerance in Los Angeles and speaker last month in Santa Cruz, continues to advocate for building a new “Museum of Tolerance” on top of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. This hardly seems consistent with the Wiesenthal Center’s declared purpose — “worldwide promotion of tolerance education.”

Gershon Baskin, Israeli Jew and co-CEO of the Palestinian/Israeli Center for Research and Action, in the November of 2008 online edition of The Jerusalem Post called for “A city of tolerance, not a Museum of Tolerance.”

Baskin continued, “There is no doubt whatsoever that the Museum of Tolerance is being constructed on top of a very important Muslim cemetery. Part of the museum is being built on what was a parking lot constructed some 30 years ago over the cemetery by the Jerusalem Municipality. This is the area where most of the graves have been found so far.”

He notes something that Rabbi Cooper neglects to mention, “The head of the [Israeli] Antiquities Authority … has already removed from the site 250 skeletons and skulls [from a cemetery that] dates back centuries and that there are at least five layers of density of graves there. … Muslim representatives stated [that] the Wiesenthal Center should consider how it would act if it were a Jewish cemetery in question.”

You wouldn’t know from Rabbi Cooper’s commentary that the speaker of the Israeli Parliament, according to Baskin, “appealed to the Wiesenthal Center to move the museum to a more suitable location.”

Cooper masters the “any port in a storm” approach to argument, citing as authoritative the opinion of the same Moslem leadership in the 1930s that the Wiesenthal Center regularly vilifies in other arguments for being Nazi sympathizers. Yet Hitler’s buddy the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is a credible Moslem authority for Cooper when it comes to bulldozing hundreds of Moslem graves.

And the rabbi conveniently forgets to mention that six of the most prominent families whose residence in Jerusalem dates back centuries have recently applied to the United Nations to have construction stopped.

We agree with Baskin’s opinion that approval to build on top of the cemetery “is not a legal issue — anything can be made legal. This is a moral issue and an issue concerning the ability of people of the three faiths to live together in this land and in this city.

As a Jew, as an Israeli and as a Jerusalemite I am embarrassed by the impudence to even think about building the Museum of Tolerance on that site. …Where are the rabbis? Where are those Jerusalemites and Israelis who believe that in Jerusalem we can truly create a city of tolerance, understanding and peace between civilizations?”

Baskin and others have appealed in vain to the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Cooper, his boss Rabbi Marvin Hier, who has raised tens of millions of dollars for this project, and others to find a more suitable location for their museum to be built on top of a cemetery that might more appropriately be called “a museum of erasure.”

We join Gershon Baskin and many Israeli peace and human rights groups in asking Rabbi Cooper, those who came to hear him, and those who placed his commentary in the daily paper in response to a column published in another local weekly, “What is compassion, what is tolerance, if not the ability to reconsider one’s own actions in the light of the ways in which they may injure others?” We add our voices to those who ask the Wiesenthal Center to stop the project immediately before more damage is done.

Jerusalem should be the center of tolerance, without a Jewish Museum of Tolerance built on top of Muslim graves.

Sami Abed, Sallye Steiner Boyer and Scott Kennedy submitted this statement on behalf of the local Palestine-Israel Action Committee, piac@calcentral.com.

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