You may have read reports that opponents of a new Museum of Tolerance being built in Jerusalem, having lost unanimously in the Israel Supreme Court, are now taking their case to the United Nations - accusing the Wiesenthal Center I founded of building our museum on the historic Mamilla Muslim Cemetery.
This is a slander - and a completely hypocritical one at that.
Our opponents would have you believe our bulldozers are preparing to desecrate ancient Muslim tombstones and historic markers. Let me be clear: The Museum of Tolerance is not being built on the Mamilla Cemetery, but on an adjacent 3-acre site where, for a half-century, hundreds of people of all faiths have parked in a three-level underground structure without any protest.
Yet while we would never build on the cemetery, a newly discovered 1945 article from the Palestine Post shows that the Supreme Muslim Council, before there was a State of Israel, did, in fact, have such plans.
And guess what they were going to build on it? A business center.
In the Thursday, July 22, 1945, edition of the Palestine Post, it was reported:
"An area of over 450 dunams [111 acres] in the heart of Jerusalem, now forming the Mamillah Cemetery, is to be converted into a business centre. The townplan is being completed under the supervision of the Supreme Muslim Council in conjunction with the Government Town Planning Adviser. A six-storeyed building to house the Supreme Muslim Council and other offices, a four-storeyed hotel, a bank and other buildings suitable for a college, a club and a factory are to be the main structures. There will also be a park to be called the Salah ed Din Park, after the Muslim warrior of Crusader times."
The article continues, "The remains buried in the Cemetery are being transferred to a spot round the tomb of al Sayid al Kurashi, ancestor of the Dajani family, in a 40-dunams walled reserve."
And it continues, "In an interview with Al Wihda, the Jerusalem weekly, a member of the Supreme Muslim Council said that the use of Muslim cemeteries in the public interest had many precedents both in Palestine and elsewhere. He quoted the cases of the Bab al Sahira (Herod's Gate) Cemetery, which formerly stretched down Saint Stephen's Gate; the Jaffa Cemetery, which was converted into a commercial centre; and Queen Farida Square in Cairo, which not long ago was a cemetery."
"The member added that the Supreme Muslim Council intended to publish a statement containing dispensations by Egyptian, Hejazi and Damascene clerics sanctioning the building programme. ..."
The article substantiates much of what Israel's Supreme Court said in its recent ruling: That the Mamilla Cemetery was regarded by many Muslim religious leaders as "mundras," or abandoned and without sanctity.
It is sheer, galling hypocrisy to attack the Wiesenthal Center for building a museum on what was a parking lot for a half-century, while in the not-too-distant past, the Muslim Supreme Council was ready to exhume all the remains from the actual Mamilla Cemetery in order to provide Jerusalem with a business center, factory and bank.
The good news is that we're going ahead with our project - construction on the infrastructure has already begun.
Because, in the end, it is what the Supreme Court said that is vital to the future of Israel: "The Museum of Tolerance ... will spread a message of human tolerance between peoples, between sectors of the population and between man and his fellow-man."
Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.We would never build on this cemetery - but the Palestinians tried in 1945