Center for Human Dignity
The Center for Human Dignity is the Simon Wiesenthal Center-planned Museum of Tolerance over Mamilla Cemetery at the center of West Jerusalem between Zion Square and the neighbourhood of Mamilla. The construction of the approximately 200-million dollar Museum began in June 2005 and was expected to be finished in 2007. After controversy concerning its location on an ancient Muslim burial site came to head, its construction was frozen by a Supreme Court order issued on February 2006. In November 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to allow construction to proceed, noting that this corner of the cemetery had been transformed into a parking lot "as long ago as the 1960s" and that Jerusalem has been inhabited for roughly 4,000 years, and many ancient sites have been built over.
The Center, originally designed by Frank Gehry (who has since stepped down from the project), was to include a museum, a theater, a conference hall, a library, and an educational center. The design of the Center has been seen as unique for Israel and, as such, has been met with many opponents and proponents. It is noted for its unusual amorphic shape as well as its glass and titanium coating, similar to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. One reporter has described it as "supernatural edifice resembling nothing so much as a crab in the process of hatching a sapphire spider with huge, glassy eyes. It is neither beautiful nor ugly; it is striking and odd."
Support and criticism
Those who are in favor of the Center, including former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, maintain that it will bring tourists to the city, while its opponents (excluding the Muslim gravesite objection) argue that it will stand out and draw attention away from the traditional architecture of neighboring streets and that of the city in general. Former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti has said that the museum's "geometric forms that can't be any more dissonant to the environment in which it is planned to put this alien object."
The museum's continued building on the ground of a Muslim cemetery has faced criticism from both Israeli and American Jews. Gershon Baskin at the Israel Palestine Research center has been critical of the museum as a moral failure. Bradley Burston, a columnist in Haaretz, has also called for the museum to cease building on the cemetery, saying "The Simon Wiesenthal Center has won its day in court. But in doing so, it defeated the very tolerance, human dignity, mutual trust, and brotherhood for which the center stands." American Jews have staged a protest in front of the building site.
The Muslim groups who initiated the legal action which resulted in the Supreme Court order to freeze all construction had been undergoing mediation with representatives of the Center. Former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar serves as mediator. That mediation has since broken down.
- "Supreme Court freezes construction of Tolerance Museum", Walla!, February 23, 2006 (Hebrew)
- "SWC Press Release"
- "Frank Gehry steps down from Museum of Tolerance project", Haaretz, Jan. 15, 2010
- "Noga Tarnopolsky, “Death In Jerusalem” Guilt and Pleasure, Spring 2007"
- Meron Benvenisti, “A Museum of Tolerance in a City of Fanatics,” Haaretz Dec 5, 2002
- "Gerson Baskin, Encountering Peace: A city of tolerance, not a Museum of Tolerance, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 4, 2008"
- "Bradley Burston, Dividing Jerusalem one wall at a time, Haaretz, Nov 19, 2008"
- "Brad Greenberg, “American Jews Protest Construction of Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance,” Jewish Journal, April 3, 2009"