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APN Letter to Simon Wiesenthal Center re: Jerusalem Museum to be built on Muslim cemetery

To build over graves is "...disturbing, foolish, and divisive. It is a mark of hubris, and it is dangerously wrong."

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean
Simon Wiesenthal Center
1399 South Roxbury
Los Angeles, California 90035

December 22, 2008

Dear Rabbi Hier:

In Jerusalem, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is building its Museum of Tolerance and Center for Human Dignity on top of a Muslim cemetery.

For a human rights organization that draws its moral authority from the absolute collapse of morality that was the Holocaust, and does its work in the name of Simon Wiesenthal, who worked tirelessly to bring the guilty to justice - for the Simon Wiesenthal Center to build over graves is far more egregious than everyday chutzpah.

It is disturbing, foolish, and divisive. It is a mark of hubris, and it is dangerously wrong.

It's disturbing, because in so stubbornly pursuing your right to build in this spot, you appear mindless of the insults you are heaping over Palestinians and Muslims, for whom Jerusalem is also home and whose cemetery should be respected as sacred ground.

Foolish because you're wasting Israel's and the Jewish people's precious moral capital that we must draw on as Israel takes risks in finding a settlement with the Palestinians and answering the threat posed by Iran.

Divisive because you have involved all Jews in a no win situation. We either oppose you and risk being perceived as standing in the way of a Jewish center for tolerance, or we bow to dictates of Jewish solidarity and be silent as you carry out this provocative and unnecessary act.

Hubris because, although the law has come down on your side, to focus merely on the legalities is to engage in misguided pilpul.  In defense of your plans, you selectively quote from Islamic figures. You presume to know what is holy to Muslims and what is not, what is supposed to infuriate them and what is not. If Muslims regard this site as a holy burial site, who are you to preach Islamic law?

Dangerously wrong because what happens in Jerusalem can have fatal consequences. The opening of a tunnel in Jerusalem's Old City a decade ago inflamed passions that led to unrest in which nearly 100 people died, including 16 Israeli soldiers. Your planned museum has already sparked riots. Aren't you at all reticent about lighting this match?

Rabbi Hier, just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

"For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing" is a sentiment that has become associated with Simon Wiesenthal. Inspired by these imperative, we appeal to you to find an alternative location in Jerusalem to build the Museum of Tolerance.

For supporters of Shalom Achshav and Americans for Peace Now and for all of us who love Zion - including those of us who live in Zion - peace and security in Jerusalem is more important than any monument. Jerusalem's future depends on the ability of Jews, Muslims, and Christians to coexist in this city.

Rabbi Hier, we ask that you turn away from your current destructive path so that Jerusalem can benefit from greater tolerance and human dignity.

Yossi Alpher  
The Hon. Colette Avital  
Amb. David Birenbaum
Martin Bresler 
Prof. Gerald Bubis
Michael Chabon
The Hon. Naomi Chazan  
Debra DeLee 
Prof. Franklin M. Fisher 
Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Gazit  
Prof. Galia Golan 
Prof. Menachem Klein
Victor A. Kovner 
Letty Cottin Pogrebin 
The Hon. Mossi Raz  
The Hon. Tzaly Reshef  
Ayelet Waldman
Prof. Michael Walzer