Sunday, August 01, 2004

"The Museum of Tolerance" in Jerusalem

"What we often see is an attempt to give a superficial meaning to tolerance. . . . What doesn't come through is genuine respect for others, for their humanity and their right of self-determination. Reconciliation requires the admission of mistakes. That starting point often isn't reached. Instead, there is this attempt to give this fig leaf of tolerance. It only sugarcoats the bad reality of suppression and control." -- Daoud Kuttab of East Jerusalem, qtd. in Samuel G. Freedman, "Frank Gehry's Mideast Peace Plan," New York Times, August 1, 2004

Meron Benvenisti condemned the Simon Wiesenthal Center's project to build a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem in no uncertain terms a year and a half ago:
It is difficult to imagine a project so hallucinatory, so irrelevant, so foreign, so megalomaniac, as the Museum of Tolerance. The mere attempt to stick the term tolerance to a building so intolerant to its surroundings is ridiculous. Others have already referred to the extravagant arrogance expressed in the geometric forms that can't be any more dissonant to the environment in which it is planned to put this alien object. There's no need to waste words on the absurdity of a Museum of Tolerance planted on part of an ancient Muslim cemetery, some of which has long since been turned into a parking lot, and will now be topped by spaces in which people are meant to learn about tolerance, mutual respect and religious coexistence. (Meron Benvenisti, "A Museum of Tolerance in a City of Fanatics," Haaretz, December 5, 2002)
Despite Benvenisti's call to get rid of the white elephant -- a project "conceived, financed and designed by Americans" (Freedman, August 1, 2004) -- "without any tolerance" (Benvenisti, December 5, 2002), promoters of the museum have already "raised about $85 million of the projected $200 million from 10 donors in the United States and Canada" (Freedman, August 1, 2004).

Even aside from its political absurdity, though, one look at Frank Gehry's design should be enough to unite aesthetes of the world to overthrow the project: "the American architect and critic Michael Sorkin claimed in Architectural Record that the [Frank] Gehry design's use of large, irregular stone blocks 'uncomfortably evokes the "deconstruction" of Yasir Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah into a pile of rubble by Israeli security forces'" (Freedman, August 1, 2004).

A Rendering of the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance/Gehry Partners LLP

The darkest irony of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem is, of course, that "Palestinians who live in the West Bank must cross multiple checkpoints and obtain permits to enter Israel. Even if many want to visit the tolerance museum, which is doubtful enough, they will have a formidable time getting there" (Freedman, August 1, 2004).

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