museum of tolerance in a city of fanatics
By Meron Benvinisti,
Ha'aretz (Israel), December 5, 2002
"Only in the holy city of Jerusalem are white elephants tempted to believe they have found their heaven. No matter where they come from, when someone decides to bring them to Jerusalem, the elephants first prosper, stuffed with all the hollow slogans of provincial kitsch, ignorance, and greed that blossom in the holy ground. But sadly, the life span of the white elephants is very short, because the struggle for survival is cruel and ruthless and their importers are interested in the profits resulting from bringing them to the city, not in the fate of the beasts after they've arrived ... Occasionally, when there comes an elephant newer and bigger than the previous, people rub their eyes and are certain nothing more monstrous can come along, but sure enough, an even more grotesque creation shows up, as if it was an iron law of nature: Welcome the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance as designed by Frank Gehry. It is difficult to imagine a project so hallucinatory, so irrelevant, so foreign, so megalomaniac, as the Museum of Tolerance. The mere attempt to stick the term tolerance to a building so intolerant to its surroundings is ridiculous. Others have already referred to the extravagant arrogance expressed in the geometric forms that can't be any more dissonant to the environment in which it is planned to put this alien object. There's no need to waste words on the absurdity of a Museum of Tolerance planted on part of an ancient Muslim cemetery, some of which has long since been turned into a parking lot, and will now be topped by spaces in which people are meant to learn about tolerance, mutual respect and religious coexistence ... Fanatic, brutal Jerusalem, saturated with the ambition to gain exclusive possession over it, will take pride in a site that preaches equality between communities and the brotherhood of nations, and from its rooftops will be seen the homes of Palestinians, whose struggle for freedom is always defined as 'terror.' Neither the project's initiators nor its financial backers deserve the criticism, which should be reserved for the local authorities that allowed this white elephant into the city ... The marginal readiness of Diaspora Jews to be superficially involved, from a safe distance, is exploited by an entire industry of schnorrers and 'funds,' run by various government agencies and institutional interests for the sake of being in motion, without any serious look at the goals or the aesthetic and environmental implications ... The absurdity of the Museum of Tolerance and the danger that this white elephant might actually rise, are so tangible that this time apathy cannot be allowed to take over. There have been successful campaigns waged against destructive projects in Jerusalem and there's no reason why a well-planned campaign won't succeed in this case. The Museum of Tolerance project must be eradicated without any tolerance."
[An older article below, highlighting further context for the one above]
Museum will focus on civility, tolerance,
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
"Unlike its prototype in Los Angeles, a planned museum of tolerance in Jerusalem will not deal with the Holocaust, says the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Instead, the museum's focus will be on promoting civility and tolerance among Jews and between Jews and non-Jews, including Arabs, said Rabbi Marvin Hier. As a result, the museum will not compete with Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Hier made his comments before plans for the creation of the museum, a $120 million project, were unveiled last week in Los Angeles, where the center is located. Architect Frank Gehry will design the museum and conference center, which will rise on a three-acre site at the foot of Jerusalem's Mount Scopus, home to the Hebrew University ... [California Jewish mogul] Gary Winnick, a 51-year-old Los Angeles business executive who made his fortune in fiber optics [and whose company collapsed in scandal in 2002], is donating $40 million toward the Jerusalem museum, which will bear the name Winnick Institute, Hier said .. [A proposed design included] seven modules, roughly arranged in a semi-circle, that will house a great hall, conference center, library, restaurant, classrooms, and the tolerance museum as the centerpiece. Gehry, who is 71, described his first Israeli assignment as 'a very moving and tough project" that had already reconnected him with his Jewish upbringing. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said that his vision for the eternal city was a mosaic or symphony of diverse parts and voices. 'I'm certain that the museum will be an important ingredient in laying the foundation for that kind of tolerance in the capital of Israel,' Olmert said."