Haaretz yesterday reported that the Hebrew University, the prime minister’s office, and the city of Jerusalem have announced a grandiose architectural plan to build a 25-story building in the shape of a golden helmet on the top of Mt. Scopus. The new building will be dedicated to the legacy of Albert Einstein, whose archives the University holds. It will be called the Einstein Heritage Center and is designed to take advantage of what Einstein would offer as a tourist attraction. It would also serve as a counter-delegitimization strategy, allowing Israel to appropriate one of the world’s greatest scientific minds on behalf of Zionism and the modern Israeli state:
“The center will go up at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and will overlook the Temple Mount and the whole city and will constitute a magnet for tourists from abroad and from Israel, Israeli youth, scientists and students,” the explanatory material for the plan states. “The center will combine museum activities with other activities that will demonstrate in an experiential way Albert Einstein’s work and personality, with an emphasis on his connection to Judaism, Zionism and the state of Israel and his great contribution to science and culture in the past and in the present.”
A bit of history of Einstein’s views on Israel and Zionism is in order. Before the war, Einstein was a skeptic about the Zionist project. He was, like Ahad HaAm, a cultural Zionist, who believed the Jewish people did not need a nation or army to realize its destiny. He also firmly believed that creating a Jewish state without the agreement of the Arabs was a serious mistake. He advocated a binational state and his views were similar to those of Martin Buber and Brit Shalom.
With the Holocaust, his ideas changed significantly and he lobbied strenuously on behalf of the UN Partition plan which did precisely what he’d earlier argued against. In the 1950s, after Chaim Weizmann died, Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel and he graciously and politely declined. Though his demurral claimed he had no interest in politics, this was likely a more telling reason. He wrote to his daughter on the subject:
“If I were to be president, sometime I would have to say to the Israeli people things they would not like to hear.”.
In 1948, Einstein signed a letter to the New York Times decrying an upcoming visit to the U.S. by Menachem Begin. The letter called Begin a Jewish fascist and likened Herut, his party, to the Nazi party. One can only imagine what Einstein would make of the latter-day incarnation of Zionist Revisionism and Begin’s Herut Party. The very idea that Bibi Netanyahu is championing a memorial to Einstein that will support supremacist nationalist notions he detested, is repulsive.
It’s also important to note as Haaretz does, that the location for this memorial is, in part, beyond the Green Line, hence in occupied Palestinian territory. Further, Scopus is the highest point in Jerusalem and the building, with its immense height, will be visible from every point in the city. It will shine as a golden beacon affirming Jewish possession of the city. This too, is a goal Einstein would find sickening.
If anyone reading this knows any Einstein family member, I would like to speak to them about the project. One presumes the Hebrew University would’ve done so. It’s hard for me to believe they would sign off on such an aggrandizing, tasteless, and patently offensive commemoration of the life and contribution of Albert Einstein.
Prince Charles, though no expert on modern architecture, once called a Norman Foster design a “monstrous carbuncle.” Needless to say, the building was never built. In this case, the Einstein Heritage Center project appears to be a true monstrous carbuncle on the Jerusalem skyline. It doesn’t take a Prince Charles for us to understand this.