Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Curse of the Tolerance Museum

Grave of Ottoman Governor Ahmad Adha Duzdar (1836-1863), Jerusalem
The "Center for Human Dignity—Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem" is being built on a Muslim graveyard. So there's that. The project, the Jerusalem branch of L.A.'s Museum of Tolerance, seems cursed. Though ground was broken in 2004 (with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Martin Hier in attendance), no one seems to know when the museum will open or even who the architect will be.
It was going to be Frank Gehry. He attended the groundbreaking and produced ambitious renderings that looked something like the world's biggest Hannukah present. But Gehry left the project, publicly insisting that the graveyard controversy wasn't a factor.
Frank Gehry rendering of Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem
Gehry was succeeded by Israeli architects Bracha and Michael Chyutin. They produced a striking, L-shaped design, but left after two years. The Wiesenthal Center now says it owns the rights to the Chyutins' building and intends to construct it with the assistance of other architects.
Chyutin rendering
The Israeli media seems to think the museum's "curse" isn't the graveyard so much as the uncompromising personality of Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Martin Hier. Rabbi Hier has been a lightning rod for controversy in the Jewish community, most recently for delivering an invocation at the Trump inauguration. The MOT Jerusalem has been called a monument to Hier. And 13 years after groundbreaking the museum has raised about $106 million out of a budget that was originally put at $250 million. In fiscal 2016 MOT-J raised $6 million but had $5.3 million in fundraising and administrative expenses.
Israeli business journal Globes recently quoted Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch: "This is a foundation that is ostensibly very serious. They raise a lot of money, and this is an enormous building. I asked for the plan and the content, and proposed building a museum of Israel music there… They didn't answer me, and that's worrying. It arouses questions and doubts."

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