JERUSALEM (JTA) — Award-winning architect Frank Gehry has withdrawn from the project to build a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.
Haaretz reported last week that Gehry was leaving the project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center amid controversy over the fact that the museum was to be built on the site of a former Muslim cemetery.
The withdrawal is not related to the protests over the site, the newspaper reported, citing the project’s architecture team as saying Gehry resigned over a request by the center to reduce the plan’s scope as well as financial disagreements.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center Board of Trustees voted two months ago to redesign the planned Jerusalem museum to reflect world economic realities, according to a joint statement released to JTA Monday afternoon. A new architect will soon be named to handle the redesign, the statement said.
“This is the right decision for us,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s founder and dean, said in the release. “The good news, however, is that the project is moving forward; we have a fantastic site in the heart of Jerusalem and we can now refocus all of our energies on bringing to Jerusalem and the people of Israel a project of crucial significance to its future.
“I greatly value my relationship with Rabbi Marvin Hier and admire his determination to establish a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem that will serve as the embodiment of human respect and compassion," Gehry said. "Unfortunately, our staff and resources are committed to other projects around the globe, and thus I will not be able to participate in the redesign effort."
The museum is being built on a former parking lot that was not being used as part of the cemetery, the center asserts. The graves have been removed from the site and the remains reburied on the edge of the construction site, according to Haaretz.
Americans for Peace Now applauded Gehry’s decision to withdraw from the project.
"The exit from the project of its celebrity architect offers Israel and the SWC a wonderful face-saving opportunity — a chance to change course and come up with a new plan on a new site," said Lara Friedman, the group’s director of policy and government relations. "Doing so will ensure that if a Museum of Tolerance is built in Jerusalem, it is built in a manner that reflects and supports the value for which it is named and to which, ostensibly, it is dedicated."