Rabbi Marvin Hier’s op-ed in the LA Times today on the controversy about the location of the planned Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, hardly dispels the ethical/moral/religious issues at stake. His contention (and that of Israel’s Supreme Court) that:
“for almost 50 years the compound has not been a part of the cemetery, both in the normative sense and in the practical sense, and it was used for various public purposes… During all those years no one raised any claim, on even one occasion, that the planning procedures violated the sanctity of the site, or that they were contrary to the law as a result of the historical and religious uniqueness of the site. . . . For decades this area was not regarded as a cemetery by the general public or by the Muslim community. . . . No one denied this position.”
Now let’s see… 2010 minus 50 = 1960, a time when Jerusalem was divided and the abandoned property scattered throughout the city was administered without much consideration for prior ownership claims. To suggest that the fact no Muslim opposed the transformation of the cemetery into a parking lot is to ignore utterly the political situation at that time. Assertions of political rights to defend cultural property reflect growing communal identity, even after a long period of silence, as various reparation claims in Central and Eastern Europe testify. An injustice is never morally acceptable simply because no one has had the means or the courage to complain.
What’s more, Hier himself accurately described the archaeological situation at the site when he stated: “During excavations on our site, the Israel Antiquities Authority found artifacts including a wine press dating back to Solomon’s Temple [sic!], and bones, 300 to 400 years old — none older.” Beneath the asphalt of the parking lost was indeed a section of the historic cemetery.
Now if the building in question were an absolute public necessity– or an institution of immediate aid to the population of Jerusalem like a hospital or other social service center– a case for construction could perhaps be made. But the fact that the building in question is a museum that claims the moral high ground (and preaches against intolerance and discrimination against all ethnic and religious minorities) makes the project a callous betrayal of its own declared moral aims.