Jewish MKs slammed the building of a museum for tolerance on a Muslim cemetery in downtown Jerusalem Wednesday, hours after the High Court of Justice held a hearing on whether to stop the construction of the $200 million building.
"Why, for God's sake, does a house of tolerance need to be built on a Muslim cemetery?" asked MK Reuven Rivlin, the Speaker of the Knesset, incredulously. "This goes against logic - there is a contradiction."
Rivlin was invited to join the Knesset Interior Committee hearing about the building of a Museum of Tolerance by the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles on a Muslim cemetery. The Jerusalem Post revealed in December that Muslim graves were found on a section of the museum's planned Jerusalem site. The hearing was called for after it came to the attention of Muslim citizens.
The Museum of Tolerance is planned to be a "world center to heighten consciousness and a catalyst to enhance sensitivity on issues of human dignity and responsibility," according to the mission statement of 2000. "It will seek to promote civility and respect among Jews, and between people of all faiths and creeds." But the Jewish and Muslim MKs, along with other Muslims who attended the event, slammed the Simon Wiesenthal Center for lacking the kind of sensitivity it wants to spread.
"My parents are buried on the Mount of Olives," said Rivlin. "If someone decided they needed to be moved to build a museum of tolerance I'd be very angry. Build it on Mt. Scopus, or in Beit Zayit, but on a Muslim cemetery?"
The lawyers representing the Simon Wiesenthal Center said their client did not know there was a cemetery under the site. The seven-dunam plot is covered by an asphalt parking lot. Next to it is an exposed Muslim cemetery.
"We have progressed a very long way and it is difficult for us to change our plans," said lawyer Elisha Ben-Shahar. He and his team offered to renovate the exposed cemetery and possibly move the graves under the planned site to it. The Muslims in the room rejected the offer.
"I'll tell you the solution," shouted MK Abdulmalik Dehamshe indignantly. "Imagine this is a Jewish cemetery." The Jewish and Muslim MKs agreed that, were this a Jewish cemetery, the museum would not have been planned there.
But the representative of the Antiquities Authority said that numerous Jewish graves have been moved for public construction plans.
Over the years, the haredi community has periodically clashed with police over a series of other construction sites believed to house ancient Jewish graves. The protests often result in changes in the plans, sometimes at the cost of millions of dollars.
Jews from around the world promised millions of dollars of donations to create the museum, which was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. Not all the donations have been paid and a source told the Post that the center fears that some donors may decide not to give their money after discovering that the planned site is on Muslim graves.
On Wednesday morning the High Court held a hearing on the petitions and said it would give its answer soon. Outside the court, some 50 people demonstrated against the building of the museum.