APN's Ori Nir in JWeekly: A shrine to tolerance shows grave insensitivity


The opinion piece by Rabbi Abraham Cooper (“Museum of Tolerance not being built atop Muslim cemetery,” Sept. 23) takes issue with my assertion that the Wiesenthal Center is knowingly building its Museum of Tolerance at the site of a historic Muslim cemetery and that bones of people buried there have been dug up to make room for the museum (“American Jewish progressives must act to defend their values in Israel,” Sept. 16).

My assertion is based on facts. These facts have been discussed in Israeli courts and in the Israeli public arena, and are included in Israel’s Supreme Court ruling. The heart of this ruling was not the question of whether there were skeletons buried where the museum now stands, but the manner in which the bones in the “Purple Zone” would be handled.

The Wiesenthal Center never refuted the presence of human bones in the “Purple Zone,” which it depicted in court as “the heart” of the museum’s construction site.

Yes, the Wiesenthal Center won in court. One of the chief reasons was that the petitions against the project by representatives of Israel’s Muslim community were filed late in the game, after building permits had already been issued.

In its ruling, the court criticized the Wiesenthal Center for not showing more flexibility and for insisting on building where bones were found. The court also pointed to the irony of the Wiesenthal Center constructing a shrine to tolerance while being so insensitive to the sentiments of others.

Judge Edna Arbel wrote: “It is difficult not to wonder how the standard bearers of tolerance failed to grant proper consideration to the value of tolerance between peoples and among individuals, while weighing other considerations and interests, important as those may be. The case in question is the test of tolerance, tolerance in the sense of showing consideration for others, for their sentiments and their hurt, tolerance that safeguards human dignity and strengthens the existence of a democratic society.”

Arbel makes the same point I made in my article — that legalities notwithstanding, insisting on building an institution that celebrates tolerance where you know there are old graves is ethically repugnant. Furthermore, it weakens rather than strengthens the values of tolerance and democracy in Israeli society.

This letter appeared first on September 30, 2016 in JWeekly