The Simon Wiesenthal Center can build its long-planned Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, the Israeli Supreme Court gave its approval eight years after the initial announcement that famed architect Frank Gehry would design the landmark museum and four years after a groundbreaking ceremony attended by Israeli and California dignitaries was held.
In the meantime, the estimated cost of the project has soared from $120 million to $250 million.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, announced that construction would resume immediately. In praising the court’s ruling, he said, “All citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews, are the real beneficiaries of this decision.”
Hier estimated that the museum in the middle of Jerusalem would open in about 3 1/2 years.
The new complex will consist of a regular museum, children’s museum, theater, conference center, library, gallery and lecture halls, with the mission to promote civility and respect among all segments of the Jewish community and between people of all faiths.
The museum site, adjoining Independence Park, served as Jerusalem’s main Muslim cemetery until 1948. Muslim authorities appealed to the Supreme Court that museum construction would desecrate the cemetery, which allegedly contained the bones of Muslims killed during the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries.
Attorneys for the Wiesenthal Center countered that the site housed a four-story underground garage for three decades, and before that the old Palace Hotel, and that Muslim religious authorities had ruled earlier that the location had lost its sacred character.
In an 85-page decision, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court agreed with the Wiesenthal Center argument.
Other objections had been raised by some Israeli politicians and initially by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Memorial Holocaust Authority. Hier assured Yad Vashem that the new museum would not deal with the history of the Holocaust.
The Supreme Court decision drew immediate criticism from Gershon Baskin, a longtime opponent of the Jerusalem project. Baskin, co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, called for letters of protest from all “Jerusalemites, rabbis, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and citizens of the world.”
Throughout the proceedings, the project has received the support of Ehud Olmert as mayor of Jerusalem and later prime minister of Israel.