Monday, November 10, 2008

Test Case for a Double Standard

As often happens, events have provided us with an excellent test case of the double standard applied in events received by Arabs and Muslims versus those received by Israelis and Jews as such.

The BBC reports that Israel's Supreme Court has okayed construction of the "Museum of Tolerance" which will involved destroying part of an ancient Muslim cemetery. Some of the graves date back to the times of the Crusades, centuries ago.

Palestinians and Muslims are understandably infuriated. Many Israeli Jews are likewise upset. Israel's idolaters are, by contrast, displaying just how bigoted they are. The BBC cites Rabbi Marvin Hier, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who "said the museum was a sensible use of 'derelict land'." The Wiesenthal Center has been the driving force behind the 250 million dollar museum.

We have to marvel at the sheer audacity and hypocrisy in building a "Museum of Tolerance" on land cherished by Muslims. It speaks volumes of the Israeli perception of Arabs.

And interestingly, there are some cases against which to compare reactions. In New York City in 2006, a Jewish cemetery abutting a construction site suffered some damage from falling debris. People were understandably upset. (New York Times. "Debris Falls on Historic Jewish Cemetery", June 9, 2006)

Then, Rabbi Marc D. Angel, senior rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel said, "It's a big deal because the cemetery is very important to us. . . . We are highly sensitive to anything that happens in that cemetery."

Likewise, when an African American burial site was revealed in lower Manhattan, great effort was made to preserve remains and the site itself. Had people responded in the way Marvin Hier has, there would have been wholly appropriate charges of racism. But not so when Israelis treat Palestinians as beneath them.

The "Museum of Tolerance" or "Proof on Intolerance" has already brought controversy, as the New York Times reported in August 2004:
At the most hyperbolic edge of the debate, the American architect and critic Michael Sorkin claimed in Architectural Record that the Gehry design's use of large, irregular stone blocks ''uncomfortably evokes the 'deconstruction' of Yasir Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah into a pile of rubble by Israeli security forces.'' The leftist Israeli politician Meron Benvenisti, the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, denounced the museum in the newspaper Ha'aretz as ''so hallucinatory, so irrelevant, so foreign, so megalomaniac.'' Even mainstream Israelis are dubious that a museum conceived, financed and designed by Americans can possibly fathom, much less redress, the political and social chasms here. Palestinians, who usually agree with Israelis on so little, express similar skepticism.
The Wiesenthal Center's Marvin Hier has also demonstrated just how tolerant he is of Palestinians. The Museum will avoid much, perhaps any, mention of the occupation of Palestinian territory or conflict with Palestinians (either those resident in and citizens of Israel or those in the Occupied Territories). Hier's enlightened comment: "It's not about the experience of the Palestinian people. When they have a state, they'll have their own museum." The obvious question with whether Marvin Hier supports Palestinian statehood.

One point not raised by the BBC: Once the "Museum" is built, that area will of course become off-limits to Arabs, or at least one to which access is severely restricted. Indeed this is already happening. The BBC reported in 2006 that Palestinians accustomed to visiting grave sites in the cemetery were already being barred from so doing.

So much for tolerance.

[Return to this site for the response of Gehry Partners and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I will try contacting them on Tuesday, 10 November]

Gehry Partners

Simon Wiesenthal Center

Times article on Manhattan cemetery

Times article on Museum

2006 BBC article on Museum. The Times article notably omits any mention of the damage mentioned here.

November 2008 BBC article

2007 Jerusalem Post article


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