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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jerusalem's Museum of Tolerance has shrunk

Jerusalem's Museum of Tolerance, to be constructed and operated by Los Angeles' Simon Wiesenthal Center, has shrunk from eight buildings to one, from 240,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet, and from $250 million to $80-$100 million. Additionally, its world-renowned architect has resigned.
Critics in Israel and the United States questioned the need and efficacy of such a museum. Some objected to the aesthetics of the design, and some labeled the whole concept as a foray of “American cultural imperialism” imposed on historic Jerusalem (see “Unbuilt” in The Journal’s Jan. 22 issue).

But there have been years of delay after Palestinian and some Israeli advocacy groups claimed that the site for the new museum is an ancient Muslim cemetery that would be desecrated by the museum’s construction.

The Israeli Supreme Court considered the legal arguments for nearly four years, finally giving the go-ahead to the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center last year.

In the end, however, it was not political pressure but rather the global economic downturn, exacerbated by the judicial delays that forced the drastic downscaling, Hier insisted.

“While it seemed perfectly possible in 2002 to raise the money, by 2009 we were forced to reconsider in light of the declining economy,” he said.

Last Nov. 5, the Wiesenthal Center board of trustees unanimously agreed on the more modest parameters of the museum. The decision was not made public, Hier said, because it was hoped to link its announcement to the appointment of a new Israeli architect.

However, a blogger discovered in mid-January that all references to the Jerusalem MOT had suddenly disappeared from the Wiesenthal Center Web site, replaced by a “please check back soon” notice.

Besieged by questions, Hier and Gehry released a joint statement last week, acknowledging the “redesign” and Gehry’s withdrawal, due to his commitment “to other projects around the globe.”

After praising the planned MOT as “the embodiment of human respect and compassion,” Gehry said that “contrary to published reports…this parting has nothing whatsoever to do with perceived political sensitivities.”


In a second development, Hier said that two weeks ago a three-person panel of the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the Palestinian and Israeli plaintiffs to reopen the case. They claimed that the Israel Antiquities Authority had been in collusion with the MOT and had ignored the advice of its own experts.

The panel, led by Supreme Court president Dorit Beinish, denied the petition and levied fines on the plaintiffs.

“What the court said, in effect, is ‘The case is over, get used to it,’” said Hier, who questioned why the Israeli media had not reported on the court’s action.
Plaintiffs in the case were not immediately available for comment.
Well, here's hoping the museum opens and is successful.


At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do we need this for, Carl?

It's a waste of perfectly good parking space.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - if you haven't visited the Los Angeles museum - you should. Its quite moving. Some day, I hope to visit both the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.


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