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 This led to a story in The Tablet which confirmed the news that internationally-famed architect, Frank Gehry had withdrawn from the project.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.
“given the bad luck of the project…”
Looks more like bad karma than bad luck.
Gene Schulman says
Everything about this project is bad, including the architect. How can anyone wish to see this piece of Lego dreck desecrating something that is supposed to memorably holy – Muslim or Jewish?
Ghery’s architecture is as big a con as Maddof’s hedge fund investments. They both deserve their comeuppance, along with the rest of that hubristic breed of Jewish pharaohs. Simon Wiesenthal must be resting a bit easier now.
I have to agree with you. It looks like a big haphazard jumble of leftovers from other failed projects. I can’t figure out either the form or the function. And what’s with the big blue pile of dog doo on the left there>
The whole idea of this project stems from the unholy and utterly draconian practice of ethnic cleansing. The Arab Muslims are so dehumanized that even their cemeteries are not respected as places where human remains are laid to rest, but can instead be desecrated and paved over to build, of all ironies, a “museum of tolerance.” There have been numerous efforts made by various activist groups to stop this project; I hope they have been successful. At the risk of being repetitive, this is the kind of thing that makes me think Israel has gone crazy.
Might I posit a possibility as to what Craig Webb meant when he used the term “politically sensitive”? You have to think outside the box with this use of the word “political” Think project, think what it would have taken to pull this off, think at what point Frank Gehry has pulled out coupled with the fundraising shortage, think of payment schedules, think of costs going up as time goes on, think of outrageous cost to begin with. Now think, isn’t it a “politically sensitive” thing to have Frank Gehry pull out because the money just isn’t there to pay him on this crown jewel of the Wiesenthall Center’s efforts. Of COURSE it is and I think this is what he meant, not that Frank Gehry’s conscience all of a sudden got the better of him. It is “politically sensitive” that the money isn’t there to pay Frank Gehry after he charged God knows what for his design and time on the project, it is politically sensitive that this is EMBARASSING. Think in terms of construction costs/architectural fees and who muttered these words, Craig Webb then watch this video (it’s part 3 so there is more to watch)
“Yeh, most of those breaking points happen around money, you know about project budget” (gotta think like THEY do to understand what he more than likely meant when using the term “politically sensitive”-especially concerning a controversial project to begin with)
Perhaps it’s just me*, but that big blue ‘thingy’ (to the left in the photo of the design model) reminds me of those children’s play areas they once had on the front of some McDonald’s. They incorporated a lot of primary colors, and that deep blue color seemed to predominate. I think concerns involving ‘risk management’ put an end to those things. I remember the “we are not responsible…” signs getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Oops, I just spilled some really hot coffee on my lap.
*It almost always is!
Haartz reported this:
“The Wiesenthal Center has begun searching for an architect to replace Gehry to join the planning team, which was composed of Gehry and Kolker, Kolker, Epstein Architects. Gehry resigned shortly after rejecting a request by the center to reduce the scope of the plan, the cost of which has been estimated at $250 million. Kolker, Kolker, Epstein said Gehry withdrew due to planning and financial disagreements”.
Yes, I would definitely say it is “politically sensitive” to say no to the Simon Wiesenthall Center after they have sunk millions of dollars into the project already and are obviously asking to reduce the scope of the project due to funding shortages. (250 mil project estimate was made WHEN? Again, think in terms of construction/architectural costs when Craig Webb uttered this phrase)
One more thing, postulation, I wonder just how much the Simon Wiesenthall Center was willing to pay Gehry for a redesign? BINGO–think I found the “politically sensitive” issue (mixed with design ego probably-ask Gehry to reduce the scope of his drawings/plans? HAH!) Here’s egg in your face Winnick for choosing your buddy as the architect for your dream and not even be able to keep him on the job!
Oh yeh baby, VERY “politically sensitive”.
Here you GO Richard! Winnick Foundation 2008 990
Almost at the bottom, grant to MOTJ originally 4.5 mil, adjusted DOWN to 1.5 mil and paid! WOW, did that gift ever shrink!