Phil Weiss has some pretty good sources who last week caught the fact that the entire Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem website disappeared in a puff of smoke. This led to a story in The Tablet which confirmed the news that internationally-famed architect, Frank Gehry had withdrawn from the project. The first word from one of his partners was that the reason for the withdrawal was “politically sensitive,” which implied at least some grappling with the criticism against the project from Muslims and Jews alike, because it is currently sited on a historic West Jerusalem Muslim cemetery.
This explanation would have had some semblance of honor to it. But Gehry, beholden to his big-wig Jewish patrons and clients, backtracked in a subsequent statement in which he pulled the legs out from under his own partner:
“Unfortunately, our staff and resources are committed to other projects around the globe, and thus I will not be able to participate in the redesign effort. Contrary to a published report quoting my partner Craig Webb, this parting has nothing whatsoever to do with perceived political sensitivities.”
As a former professional fundraiser, I caught of whiff of failure when I wrote about the capital fundraising for the project last year. Turned out I was right on the money:
I note that only $115-million of the overall $250-million cost has been raised so far. Given my fundraising background, I find it odd that a major capital project would be begun without all, or almost all the money already pledged. You can see that this is not the case by reviewing the Donor Opportunity page at the website.
In particular, there was one glaring missing $77-million lead gift from Gary Winnick (of Global Crossing and Drexel Burnham infamy) who helped Hier conceive the original project when it was named after the would-be donor. When Winnick’s fortune went belly-up so did the gift. Oddly, Hier didn’t abandon the project as he should have, probably out of a sense of Pharonic hubris/ Edifice Complex.
I can’t say whether Gehry finally caved to the nasty implications of the siting of his project. If he did that would indicate he has some sort of spiritual sensitivity or conscience. But I think it even more likely that given the Winnick disaster and last year’s economic implosion, which hit L.A.’s wealthy real estate developers (and most likely gift prospects) especially hard, Gehry and Hier just had to bow to the hard reality that they didn’t have the money for the project.
Now, the question becomes can Hier build this sucker at all. My hope is that he can’t. He’s claiming he plans to scale down the effort and cost. Maybe yes, maybe no. But given the bad luck of the project I can’t see the types of glittery philanthropic names necessary to put this thing together jumping at the chance to associate their names with it.
Peace Now released this statement calling for reason from the Wiesenthal folks, something apparently in short supply:
“Frank Gehry’s withdrawal from a project that brings strife and contention rather than tolerance to Jerusalem provides the Wiesenthal Center an opportunity to do what is right and cancel the project or find an alternative site. There is enough tension and conflict in Jerusalem without this Orwellian scheme,” said APN President and CEO Debra DeLee. “It’s time for the Wiesenthal Center to practice tolerance and not provoke Muslims in Jerusalem and the entire world,” DeLee said.
The ugly truth of this project is that Hier made a hash of it from the beginning–from the siting on a Muslim cemetery, to the mission which proclaimed tolerance while trampling on the sensitivities of Muslims, to the fundraising, to the economic climate working against it. Further, how in God’s name can a right-wing Likudist rabbi who earns his living off the Anti-Semitism industry, attempt to approach the subject of religious tolerance in the Holy Land? As my rabbi and teacher Elliot Dorff said so memorably, it is a Hillul Hashem (“desecration of God’s name”).
If Hier were sensible he would give the project a respectful burial somewhere outside the Mamilla Muslim cemetery.