(photo credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center)
The Anti-Defamation League's Israel office has called on the Wiesenthal Center to "pause" in its construction of a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem over land that contains a recently discovered Muslim burial site.
"The ADL believes that a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem can be an important institution for educating against bias and for respect and understanding. We trust that the same tenets that undergird [sic] the museum's mission will be applied to finding a resolution to address the concerns of the Muslim community and the families of those whose graves have been discovered," the ADL said in a statement released to the press.
The High Court of Justice is slated to hand down its decision in the coming days on whether the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) may continue building its planned Center for Human Dignity, Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem complex following public protests and two petitions by Israeli Arabs.
The $150 million complex off Jerusalem's Rehov Hillel, designed by prominent American architect Frank Gehry, would include a museum, conference and education centers, a library and a theater, all dedicated to promoting tolerance in Israel and abroad, the SWC says. If work continues as planned the museum is expected to open by 2008.
The SWC said it had been told by the government and the Jerusalem Municipality five years ago that the three-dunam plot was not defined as a cemetery, but as "public open space" and gave it the necessary permits to build on the site. It said the government based its decision on a 1964 Shari'a Court (the highest Muslim court in Israel) ruling that allegedly nullified the sanctity of the graveyard and permitted use of the land.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of SWC, quoted the ruling as declaring "The cemetery's sanctity has ceased to exist and it is permitted to do whatever is permitted in any other land which was never a cemetery." The 1964 document was included in the SWC response to the petition.
"We encourage a temporary cessation of construction until the issue is resolved in a respectful way acceptable to all parties. To do less would weaken the foundation upon which a museum of tolerance stands," the ADL said Sunday.
SWC head Rabbi Marvin Hier told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the center would not stop its plans to build the museum at the site, unless ordered to by the High Court.
A spokesman for the museum, Charley Levine, blasted the ADL's statement.
"It is most unfortunate that the ADL Israel Office did not have the patience to allow allow justice to take its course, feeling the need to weigh in on a sensitive situation about which it lacked detailed understanding. In doing so, it joins with extreme elements whose sole objective is to permanently stop the construction of the MOT in the heart of Jerusalem," Levine told the Post.
"The Wiesenthal Center has made its case to Israel's Supreme Court and awaits the decision from that institution. We are fully committed to finding an acceptable solution that will assure that all remains will be reinterred according to the highest norms of Judaism and Islam. The SWC has offered three specific compromise measures to the Court to achieve this goal," Levine said.