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Schwarzenegger Breaks Ground for Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem by Dina Kraft

May 3, 2004
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“The Terminator” has a new mission: to terminate intolerance in the Holy Land.

The action-movie-hero-turned-California-governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, came to Jerusalem this week to break ground for Israel’s new Museum of Tolerance, a $200 million project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“Am Yisrael Chai,” Schwarzenegger proclaimed to a cheering crowd in Jerusalem at a groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday for the new museum.

The presence in Jerusalem of Schwarzenegger, whose father once belonged to the Nazi Party, was another sign of Schwarzenegger’s effort to distance himself from his father’s past and the wartime legacy of his native Austria. The California governor also laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“I was born in Austria,” Schwarzenegger said, “a place where intolerance and ignorance led to tragedy and heartache.

“Because of this I want to do what I can to promote tolerance around the world,” he said.

Schwarzenegger’s estranged father joined the Nazi Party during World War II, and Schwarzenegger himself told an interviewer 25 years ago that he admired Hitler’s rise to power from humble origins, though he disavowed what Hitler did with his power.

Schwarzenegger repeatedly has disavowed support for his father’s political views and has given a lot of money to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, officials there have said. He also has lectured on behalf of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The center’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem is scheduled to be completed by 2007.

Among those attending the groundbreaking ceremony Sunday were the building’s architect, Frank Gehry.

Schwarzenegger, standing in front of a backdrop of the design of the sprawling structure — a grand mix of glass and stone facades and rounded and angular walls — joked about the collaboration of the world renowned Gehry and Rabbi Martin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“It is amazing what an architect and a rabbi can dream,” he said, adding that he was moved by the planned museum’s “stone, the light, the openness and hope.”

Organizers hope the Jerusalem museum will become a major tourist attraction and an educational center where Israelis and visitors will be able to learn about human dignity and responsibility.

Schwarzenegger spoke of the museum as an example of Israel going forward into a better future and moving beyond current daily strife and terrorism.

“The world should know we are not building a bunker,” Schwarzenegger said. “We’re building something that breathes with life, just as God breathed life into us.”

“We look past the suicide bombers, the terrorists, past the blood,” he said. “We look ahead to the time people can live side by side.”

The museum grounds, adjacent to Jerusalem’s Independence Park, will include a theater complex, international conference center, library, gallery, lecture hall and gardens. It is located just steps away from the Old City and downtown Jerusalem.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Israeli Cabinet ministers and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, all attended the ceremony Sunday.

On Saturday evening, Schwarzenegger met with Israeli business leaders and announced a job creation venture with several Israeli companies to expand their businesses in California.

Schwarzenegger was greeted with gushing enthusiasm, cheered by Israelis at nearly every step of his brief stay in the country. The governor planned to fly to Jordan on Monday for a meeting with King Abdullah II.

The former actor ended his speech at the groundbreaking ceremony with his trademark line. He promised Israelis: “I’ll be back.”

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