Consider this headline: “Prague Museum to Desecrate Ancient Jewish Quarter Cemetery.”
The headline isn’t true, but it got your attention. The city of Prague is not building a museum of tolerance in the Jewish Old City. But the city of Jerusalem has given the Wiesenthal Center the green light to destroy an ancient Muslim cemetery in the Mamilla neighborhood of West Jerusalem in order to build a new “musuem of tolerance” there.
Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist and environmental crusader, has brought the issue to the fore within the Jewish community, while Israel’s Islamic Movement has championed the cause in the Muslim community. Just as Baskin wasn’t aware of the issue until the museum had actually broken ground and begun uncovering Muslim skeletons (while having made no provisions for what to do with them once they were found), I wasn’t aware of this until reader Linda Mamoun brought Baskin’s comments in the Jerusalem Post to my attention. This has to be one of the few times when I’ll acknowledge that the Post has actually done something constructive regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though Marvin Hier will, no doubt, disagree.
I created the title in the first paragraph of this post because I want my readers to imagine how they would feel if that place of awesome repose in Prague’s Old Jewish Quarter, which I have had the good fortune to visit, were desecrated in the way the Muslim cemetery is being desecrated. Adding insult to injury, the museum is designed to promote awareness of anti-Semitism and tolerance for Judaism (certainly not for Islam).
What kind of message is the Wiesenthal Center sending to the world’s Muslims, let alone to Israeli Jews? Tolerance? Where is it? It has been widowed and orphaned. Baskin notes the horror Jews felt after the 1967 War when they returned to the Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery to see the devastation wrought by the Jordanians there. And if an arch right-winger like Reuven Rivlin can express the sentiments below, you know you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel:
…Then Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud)…spoke in the meeting [Knesset hearing] about his parents, buried in the Mount of Olives cemetery in east Jerusalem, and the rage he would feel if someone tried to build a museum on their graves.
Even if we concede that the Museum of Tolerance is not a malicious desecration, do we think that the Muslim world will have the patience to understand the nuance? Further, the Jewish presence in Israel has involved expropriation/appropriation of thousands of Arab villages and historic sites. Must we take yet another and in the guise of brotherhood?
Moving the Museum would undoubtedly involve great inconvenience and expense. But it’s simply the right thing to do. Not to move the museum is a clear message to the Muslims of Israel and the world that Jews simply do not value either live Muslims or dead ones.
It is shameful that the museum’s defenders have excoriated Gershon Baskin as a supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah for his opposition to the museum. Notice how in the following passage, Rabbi Hier manages to transform Israeli Jew, Baskin and his NGO, the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information into a “Muslim group:”
…During the almost half-century that it served as a parking lot, no Muslim group, including today’s most vociferous critics of the museum – Hamas, Hizbullah and Gershon Baskin, of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information – raised a word of protest.
It is as if Baskin’s being on the same side of the issue as a supposed radical Israeli Islamic cleric, transforms Baskin from Jew to Muslim. This is a typical scurrilous tactic of the extreme Israel-First crowd. It is far easier and more convenient to smear a Jewish opponent as being an Muslim lover than it is to engage with his critical arguments.
I also find objectionable Hier’s characterization of the Muslim opponents of the project as blind haters:
It is the blind hatred and intolerance of extremists…which impede any prospects for civility and peace.
Since when does a religious adherent who objects to the desecration of the bones of his ancestors become a “blind hater” and “intolerant extremist?” If an abandoned Jewish cemetery in Hier’s Los Angeles hometown were desecrated he’d be the first to scream bloody murder. And he’d be right to do so. But when it’s his ox being gored all of a sudden he gets all holy and indignant and cries ‘Islamic extremism.’
Museum of tolerance, indeed. Rabbi Hier needs a few lesson in the subject himself. He has infinite tolerance for his own religion, little for that of his Jerusalem Muslim neighbors.
Let’s also remember that Baskin wisely articulates his argument not on the basis of it being the right thing to do for Muslims or in legal terms. But rather on the basis that it is the right thing to do as Jews. That is something that must incense Hier and why he tries to tar Baskin with the brush of being “Muslim.”
In this closing remark of Hier’s Jerusalem Post rebuttal to Baskin, the rabbi condemns himself and his own project with his own words:
The location of the museum in the center of Jerusalem has special significance, since it is a city that has a special ethical significance for three religions and an ancient history, which is unique to human civilization.
And it is for this very reason that Hier’s museum makes a travesty of its stated purpose. When it is built I will never visit it nor should any right-thinking person. It is an offense to Jewish values as well as Muslim.