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Home arrow Blog arrow November 2008 arrow November 5, 2008

November 5, 2008
WAWA Blog November 5, 2008: Winds of Change UPDATE Nov. 9, 2008 LEADS

“In fact, we don't just seek peace; we seek a meaningful and lasting peace with Israel. We seek strong ties with Israel. We seek strong economic ties between the independent states of Israel and Palestine. We seek warm relations with Israelis. We do not want to simply get to a point where we just accept each other - we want to have warm relations where we both recognize the mutual economic, intellectual, spiritual, and of course security benefits of living and working together. We do not want to erect walls; we want to build bridges. We do not want to close Israelis out of our lives; we want to live with Israelis as our neighbors."-
Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad,    October 12, 2008

Nov. 9 email from Gershon Baskin

Dear Friends

The Director of the Wiesenthal Center from Los Angeles had a piece in the Jerusalem Post which included a direct attach against me.  I wrote a response to the Post but they have responded that they have given both of us our say – which is true.  So I want to share my response with you because it concerns the continued building of the Wiesenthal Museum over the Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.  I will first put in my response followed by Hier’s piece .  Take note that he in no part of his arguments addresses the original concerns that I raised in my piece in the Jerusalem Post.  (You can see my original arguments against the Museum @

Dear Editor

Shame on you Marvin Hier (JP November 9, 2008). You argue the right of the Wiesenthal Center to construct a Museum of “Tolerance” on top of an ancient Muslim cemetery on legal grounds predicated on various interpretations of Islamic Law.  You then go on to associate me with Hamas and Hizbullah because I have raised my voice against the selected location of the Museum. I, Mr Hier am an Israeli by choice, a Jew and a Zionist who has built a home and a family in Israel, in Jerusalem out of my deep sense of belonging to this people.  My arguments against the building the Museum on a Muslim Cemetery are Jewish, Israeli and Jerusalemite arguments. You call yourself a Rabbi.  You know as well as any Jew that we can find Jewish texts and Rabbis to justify almost anything.  The same is true in Islam.  Find yourself a Sheikh.  You certainly did, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who collaborated with Hitler and another Israeli State appointed Islamic Judge, during the time when all Israeli Arab citizens lived under Military Government, who was later removed from office and imprisoned for corruption.

I never claimed that it was the bones and skulls of those who are beneath the ground, soon to be beneath your Museum of Tolerance, who will threaten the stability of the Middle East.  It is people like you, Mr. Hier, very much alive, who seek to bring animosity to the State of Israel and hatred between Israelis and Arabs, Muslims and Jews.  It is you who is causing great damage to the good name of the State of Israel, to the City of Jerusalem and to the Jewish people. Shame on you, living on your high moral ground in Beverley Hills, far away from this disaster that you have laid at our doorstep.

If the government of Israel had any courage, it would step in to stop this project, in the name of public safety and to protect the good name of the State of Israel.  I wonder how many envelopes filled with cash made their way into the hands of those in charge of advancing this embarrassment.

Finally, I can only smile at the fact that your attack against me, Mr. Hier, appears just below an article entitled “When good men did nothing” – you can imagine what that one is about.

Gershon Baskin, November 9, 2008
Here is Hier’s article from today:

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Right of Reply: A center of hope and reason

Nov. 8, 2008

When the idea to build a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem was first conceived, the Simon Wiesenthal Center had no particular location in mind. We were shown various properties by representatives of the Jerusalem Municipality before we were offered the current site in the center of west Jerusalem. The site was jointly owned by the Israel Lands Administration and the Jerusalem Municipality.

For almost half a century, that parcel functioned as the city's municipal car park (a portion of it included three levels of underground parking), serving the diverse communities of Jerusalem. Everyday, since the 1960s, hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims parked their cars there. The city of Jerusalem also laid electrical cables and sewer lines below the ground.

During the High Court hearings, lawyers representing the project's chief opponent, Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Aksa Association, argued that everyone knew that the site had always been part of a Muslim cemetery. And yet, 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. Where were their expressions of outrage and indignation about the graves of their ancestors then? This was not just a lapse of a few weeks or a few months - we're talking about a half a century.

When the project was in its design stage, a model of the Frank Gehry design was placed at Jerusalem's city hall for a week, followed by newspaper ads announcing the new project in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Not a word of protest was heard from any one.

They were silent because, as the High Court said, "...the area has not been classified as a cemetery for decades." The bones found during construction were between 100 and 300 years old. They were unaccompanied by a single marker or monument identifying any individual name, family or religion.

WHY IS that? Because Jerusalem is more than 3,000 years old. Because every stone and parcel of land has a history that is revered by people of many faiths. Hardly a street or neighborhood is without bones or relics. We could declare Jerusalem one large cemetery, off limits to everyone - a city of the past, with no future - or we could find a better way in which the past is revered and respected, without impeding or choking off the future.

Muslim scholars and religious leaders have dealt with such issues for centuries, and in seeking to resolve such difficulties ruled that a cemetery not in use for 37 years is considered mundras - an abandoned cemetery that has lost its sanctity. In fact, in 1946, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, a supporter of Hitler, presented plans to build a Muslim university of 15 buildings on the entire Mamilla cemetery (now Independence Park). In fact, we submitted the drawings of that proposed university to the High Court. The mufti was relying on the concept of mundras‚ which was and is invoked throughout the Muslim world. Today, it is widely sanctioned and practiced throughout the Arab world, in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories.

While Judaism does not have a mundras concept, Halacha also dictates a sensitive and practical way to deal with such issues. To suddenly demand that Jews be held to a higher standard than the Muslims hold for themselves is preposterous, dishonest and hypocritical.

It is important to note that the Simon Wiesenthal Center did not initiate the proceedings before the High Court; Sheikh Salah did. The court immediately ordered mediation between the parties to be conducted by former court president Meir Shamgar. Our center was very sensitive to the issue and offered numerous compromises, but they were all rejected out-of-hand by Sheikh Salah, who insisted that the court rule on the matter. Now that after two years of deliberation, the court has handed down a 119-page unanimous verdict in favor of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, Sheikh Salah, who sought the court's relief, is agitating against its decision because he lost.

Gershon Baskin has it totally wrong. It is not those who lie beneath the ground who threaten the stability of the Middle East. It is the blind hatred and intolerance of extremists above the ground which impede any prospects for civility and peace.

From this half-century former parking lot in the center of west Jerusalem will rise an institution that offers hope and reason to all the people of Israel and the world. We are committed to the high praise given to our project by the High Court in its decision which emphasized the great importance of the Museum of Tolerance to the development of the center of Jerusalem as well as its ethical importance in advancing the values of tolerance, human dignity, mutual trust, brotherhood and the advancement of democratic values.

LET ME end with a translation of part of that court ruling: "The importance and benefit of realizing the plan to build the Museum of Tolerance in the center of the city of Jerusalem are very great. The Museum of Tolerance embodies an ideal of establishing a spiritual center that will spread a message of human tolerance between peoples, between sectors of the population and between man and his fellow-man. The establishment of the museum is likely to make an important national contribution to the whole country, in which no center has yet been built with the purpose of addressing the issue of tolerance in all its aspects, and to bring about the assimilation of this idea among the general public.

"This center is supposed to serve as an important focus of attention both in Israel and for the countries of the world. It is supposed to attract visitors from throughout Israel and from around the world, who will visit it and encounter the conceptual, architectural and artistic experience that it is intended to express. 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.

"Moreover, the existence of a Museum of Tolerance in the capital of Israel against the background of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict has special weight in the context of the dynamics of dialogue and the mediation efforts between the opposing sides. The building of the museum in the center of the city of Jerusalem is intended to make an important contribution to the development of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to promote the urban development of the city center as a municipal center of local and national importance and significance. The construction of the museum is a part of a broader development plan for the city center, whose purpose is to rejuvenate the central area that has suffered in recent decades from a serious economic and cultural slump. "The development plan seeks to return Jerusalem to its former glory."

Rabbi Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.

This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1225910066718&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

The War Within
The New York Times
November 5, 2008

Israel is becoming a nation at war with itself. The conflict is not just with militant Palestinians. Militant Jewish settlers in the West Bank clash regularly with Israeli police who remove illegal homes. Israeli security officials have warned of possible assassination attempts on peace-seeking Israeli leaders.

In September, Jewish militants tried to assassinate Professor Zeev Sternhell, a supporter of Peace Now, which documents settlement construction. Settlers are damaging Palestinian property in retaliation for government actions against the outposts.

The Israeli cabinet on Sunday branded the disturbances “a threat to the rule of law and order in Israel.” The situation is so bad that Ehud Olmert, the departing prime minister, announced plans to halt direct or indirect government financing of unauthorized settlements — roughly 100. Another 120 settlements are government-authorized. And any peace deal will inevitably require that the vast majority are shut down.

Mr. Olmert said he would increase the number of law enforcement personnel deployed in the West Bank and move against law-breaking settlers. It was long past time for the government to act. But we fear the measures are more symbolic than real.

Mr. Olmert’s announcement exposed the fact that despite repeated pledges to dismantle settlements, the government is still abetting them. Even if financing is ended, some experts say government services to the outposts like water and electricity will continue.

As a step toward peace, Israel must freeze all settlements and reduce the roadblocks in the West Bank that are strangling the Palestinian economy. To do so, the Israeli government needs the public support of American Jews and moderate Israelis against militants who seek political change through violence.

Israeli voters are expected to choose a new government in February. Mr. Olmert’s designated heir, Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, failed to put together a coalition government for the right reasons: She refused the ultra- Orthodox Shas Party’s demand that there would be no negotiations on the status of Jerusalem. Such a commitment would have made any peace deal impossible. Ms. Livni’s chief rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, opposes immediate talks on a Palestinian state.

Israelis need a leader who can calm the forces that are tearing Israel apart and also negotiate a just peace. The new American president must be ready to fully support that effort. The lesson of the last few months should be clear to all. Israel will have no peace — with its neighbors or its own citizens — without a peace agreement.

Gershon Baskin is Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. He wrote:

"After about 30 years of working on the sidelines of politics, I have decided to jump into the Political world directly.  I am involved in a new fascinating initiative to create a new political movement in Israel that will become a political party running in the upcoming elections on February 10, 2009.  I have decided to join the movement and to run in the party’s primaries for a slot on the list for the Knesset.  The working name of the party right now is “the Green Movement”+... it is one of the best political documents that I have read in a long time.  A close friend of mine and I have now expanded the political-peace platform for the document which will be added to it soon."-Gershon Baskin

+ The Platform is a 17 page PDF file. If any are interested in reading it, send me an email and I will FWD it to you.

Encountering Peace: A city of tolerance, not a Museum of Tolerance

Nov. 4, 2008

When I first became aware of the plans to construct the Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance on top of the old Muslim cemetery in Mamilla in the heart of west Jerusalem, it was after the planning process had been completed. The Wiesenthal Center went through all of the legal processes, including calling for public objections, and had received its building license in the proper way.

The whole issue fell under my radar screen, and I was completely unaware of the intention to construct the museum there. I noticed a small article about it in a local Jerusalem newspaper only when they broke ground and began to dig up skeletons. I immediately went to see the sight and contacted Danny Seidemann, a well known Jerusalem lawyer, to get more information. I then wrote an article against the idea of building the museum in that location and distributed the article around the world.

My claims against the museum's location focus on what we as Jews can and cannot do in the State of Israel and in the city of Jerusalem. I have never claimed that this is a legal issue or even a political issue. I appealed to Jews here and around the world to think about how we respond when somewhere in the world a museum or any other institution is built on a Jewish cemetery.

After writing my article, I was invited to a hearing in the Interior Committee of the Knesset and spoke before it. The meeting was initiated by the then Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud). He spoke in the meeting 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. I recall the anger and the deep sorrow and outcry when we returned to the Mount of Olives and to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in 1967 after 19 years of Jordanian occupation to discover the damage that was done in the cemetery and the destruction of so many synagogues there.

AFTER THE Knesset hearing, this is what I wrote:

1. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Museum of Tolerance is being constructed on top of a very important Muslim cemetery.

2. As the initiators of the museum contend, part of the museum is being built on what was a parking lot constructed some 30 years ago over the cemetery by the Jerusalem Municipality. This is the area where most of the graves have been found so far.

3. The head of the Antiquities Authority stated that it has already removed from the site 250 skeletons and skulls. The Antiquities Authority reported to the High Court that the cemetery dates back centuries and that there are at least five layers of density of graves there.

4. The lawyers of the Wiesenthal Center who appeared in the Knesset hearing appealed to the Muslims to enter into dialogue. They propose reburying all the remains that were/are under the location of the museum (not necessarily in the same cemetery) and paying for the renovation and the upkeep of the cemetery.

5. The Muslim representatives stated that there is no room for dialogue and that the Wiesenthal Center should consider how it would act if it were a Jewish cemetery in question. They also asked that people consider how the plan to build a museum over a Muslim cemetery would influence anti-Semitism in Europe.

6. The speaker of the Knesset appealed to the Wiesenthal Center to move the museum to a more suitable location.

I HAVE been attacked repeatedly for aiding the Islamic movement of Sheikh Raed Salah in seeking to gain a foothold in the center of west Jerusalem. I am now being sent repeatedly the answer of the Wiesenthal Center arguing in a very articulate and logical manner that it was previous Muslim clerics who removed the sanctity of the site. (They have the audacity to quote Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem who was a collaborator with Hitler, and the kadi of Jerusalem during the 1960s who authorized the construction of a parking lot on the site and was later removed from office and arrested because of corruption.)

Many of the historical and Islamic interpretations and other "facts" presented by the Wiesenthal Center are at best contestable, but once again I want to emphasize that this is not a Muslim issue, it is not an Arab issue, it is not a Palestinian issue. In my view, this is a Jewish, an Israeli and a Jerusalemite issue.

I wrote then and I repeat it today: In my view this is not a legal issue - anything can be made legal. This is a moral issue and an issue concerning the ability of people of the three faiths to live together in this land and in this city.

As a Jew, as an Israeli and as a Jerusalemite I am embarrassed by the impudence to even think about building the Museum of Tolerance on that site. I can only imagine (and hope) that the "knight of justice" Shimon Wiesenthal must be turning in his grave if he could realize what has developed.

After the High Court decided that the construction of the museum was legal, I once again wrote an appeal to stop it. The government has the jurisdiction to intervene and to determine that the construction of the museum would endanger public safety and would defame the good name of the State of Israel.

I am honestly ashamed that the only real protest so far of the court decision has come from the Islamic radical Sheikh Raed. Where are the rabbis? Where are those Jerusalemites and Israelis who believe that in Jerusalem we can truly create a city of tolerance, understanding and peace between civilizations? I believe that we have that possibility here.

I remember several years ago during Pessah standing inside of a shop on a very crowded street in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. It was also Easter week and the holy month of Ramadan. I stood there for more than 30 minutes enjoying the parade of people from these three great cultures going about their religious and cultural rituals, side by side in that holy space which is about 900 square meters in total, completely amazed that this kind of activity was actually possible.

What was absent then, and what we need to work toward now is the time when we will all celebrate that wonderful diversity and appreciate how fortunate we are in Jerusalem to have so much history and sanctity in our midst. We will never be able to do that if we violate the sanctity of each other's space. We as Jews, in particular, and as the sovereign in Jerusalem have the responsibility and the duty to ensure that all such sacred space is respected by all.

We do not have to give a foothold to Raed Salah in the heart of west Jerusalem. The Mamilla cemetery has been under Israeli rule since 1948 without such a foothold. It can remain that way for eternity.

I appeal to Rabbi Marvin Hier who raised $250 million for this project and the Shimon Wiesenthal Center to use their good judgment and to take the initiative to stop the project, find a more suitable location, pay for the renovation of the cemetery as a sign if good faith and apology. I appeal to the donors of the museum to raise their voice and call on the Wiesenthal Center to stop the project immediately before more damage is done.

If the Wiesenthal Center does not have the good judgment to change the location, I call on the government and on the Jewish people to raise their voice so that Jerusalem will be the center of tolerance, without a Museum of Tolerance on top of Muslim graves.

The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. /servlet/Satellite?cid=1225715340258 pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Gershon Baskin    -    Co-CEO, IPCRI
Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information
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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

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The age of warrior kings and of warrior presidents has passed. The nuclear age calls for a different kind of leadership....a leadership of intellect, judgment, tolerance and rationality, a leadership committed to human values, to world peace, and to the improvement of the human condition. The attributes upon which we must draw are the human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination, and of empathy and understanding between cultures."  - William Fulbright

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