Below is a post from today’s Mondoweiss on the appalling intolerance of the Los Angeles Simon Weisenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance. I have some personal history with the center and museum. In 1948 David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father and the first prime minister of Israel, referred to my father, Robert F. Maguire, the American pilot who directed and was Chief Pilot for Operation Magic Carpet, as “the Irish Moses” because he and his fleet of silver C-54 transport planes flew tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from all over the world to the new homeland for the Jews, the state of Israel. In 2004, just a year before his death, he was awarded the Medal of Valor by the Los Angeles Simon Wiesenthal Center for “his heroic efforts that helped to rescue tens of thousands of Jews” during 1948-49 after the founding of the State of Israel.
Paradoxically, my father, the “Irish Moses” for Israeli Jews, became very critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians in his later years, and refused an invitation to attend ceremonies in Israel celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence in 1998. His refusal and criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians sparked my interest in the current Israeli-Arab conflict over Palestine, and formed the basis for my blog Irish Moses.
My father didn’t want to accept the medal of valor from the museum but we talked him into it arguing that the museum was separate from Israel and stood for good causes. The presentation ceremony and dinner was a very big deal and very moving but not once was Palestine or the Palestinians mentioned in the various speeches given, all of which discussed the glorious history of Israel at great length. My father thanked the center for the award but said nothing about Israel in his very brief acceptance speech.
This latest round of intolerance toward Palestinians by this so-called “Museum of Tolerance” really angers me. Bradley Burston’s very personal Haaretz piece, “Flirting with Arrest at Jerusalem’s Newest Settlement” says it all; the appalling intolerance of choosing then destroying a Muslim graveyard to build a Jewish center, the use of eerily-facist private security thugs to guard the Jerusalem site of the new “Museum of Tolerance”, etc. I intend on sending angry letters to both the museum and the LA Times. I’ll report back with my results although I expect to be ignored. My father gave me his medal of valor from the museum before he died. I am tempted to return it.
In my youth my father was very glowing in describing Israel to me, and how the sabras had made the desert bloom. By the 70s he had lost that enthusiasm and respect and would refer to Israel as “a nation of thugs”. I think he regretted being a Moses to the Israelis at the expense of the Palestinians. Would that the Palestinians will someday have their own Moses, preferably an Irish one.
Here is the Mondoweiss piece from today:
Why does the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) have nothing to say about the rabbinical edict circulating in Israel—currently signed by more than four dozen rabbis—forbidding the sale or rental of homes to non-Jews?
Or, why has the Center not applauded the dissenting view of Israel’s leading Haredi rabbi, Aaron Leib Steinman, who said, “there are things that should not be done; what if there would be a similar call in Berlin against renting properties to Jews? Where is the public conscience?”
Israel is lurching toward ever-more extreme expressions of religious-nationalism, electing leaders who publicly profess anti-Arab and anti-immigrant views—and legislate accordingly. Israelis increasingly favor gagging their own country’s human rights organizations, journalists, and activists. This swelling anti-democratic impulse is directed toward non-Jews—whose status is necessarily ambiguous in the “Jewish state”—but even toward some who self-identify as Jews.
Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is in “business-as-usual” mode, issuing stern rebukes to those it deems anti-Semites—i.e., those who criticize Israeli policy and advocate equality for all who inhabit the borderless space of Israel/Palestine.
Last week, SWC Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper took the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to task in an over-the-top op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. A sharp correction to Rabbis Hier and Cooper came in a statement issued by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA), which noted that “this is not the first time [SWC rabbis] have wrongly accused Christian traditions that are committed to overcoming injustice in the Holy Land of demonizing the Jewish people.”
So, while ignoring the fact that many of Israel’s religious and secular leaders are fomenting rabid, tribal attitudes, what does the Simon Wiesenthal Center deem worth of attention in its quest for “tolerance”? A visit to the organization’s website lists their current preoccupations:
• Slamming UNESCO for its declaration that the “Haram al-Ibrahim/the Cave of the Patriarchs and Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb” are “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories” and “that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law.” Despite the location of these sites in Hebron/Al Khalil, deep within the Palestinian occupied territories, the Simon Wiesenthal Center characterizes UNESCO’s statement as a move to “steal from the Jewish people one of its most sacred religious sites.” [No mention on the Center’s site of Israel’s state-sponsored stealing from the Palestinian people in establishing settlements for half a million Israelis on occupied and expropriated Palestinian land, in Hebron and elsewhere, in violation of international law.]
• Calling on the Japanese discount retail chain, Don Quixote, to remove a “Nazi” uniform adult costume from its stores throughout Japan and Hawaii.
• Slamming as “anti-Semitic scapegoating” an event in Dublin, Ireland, featuring David Cronin, author of a new book titled Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation.
Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is moving ahead on the planning phase of a “Museum of Tolerance” in Jerusalem, incredibly situated atop a Muslim cemetery. The project, a “partnership with the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli government,” has been condemned by numerous entities, including an Israeli Jewish-Muslim initiative, Americans for Peace Now, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and, of course, descendents of the Palestinians buried there.
In its scorched-earth campaign to deflect appropriate criticism of Israeli policy by smearing advocates of equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians, the Simon Wiesenthal Center fails abjectly in key elements of its stated agenda: to “promote human rights and dignity” and “confront bigotry and racism.” It’s a patent double standard: the Wiesenthal Center’s misguided notion of what it means to “stand with Israel” trumps universal human rights regardless of religion and ethnicity.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has amassed a substantial track-record of self-righteous finger-pointing. It’s time to point the finger back.
Martha Reese is a steering committee member of the Chicago-based Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine (CJPIP). For information about CJPIP’s new “Be on our side” campaign, visit http://www.TwoPeoplesOneFuture.org.