A shrine to tolerance shows grave insensitivity

The opinion piece by Rabbi Abraham Cooper (“Museum of Tolerance not being built atop Muslim cemetery,” Sept. 23) takes issue with my assertion that the Wiesenthal Center is knowingly building its Museum of Tolerance at the site of a historic Muslim cemetery and that bones of people buried there have been dug up to make room for the museum (“American Jewish progressives must act to defend their values in Israel,” Sept. 16).

My assertion is based on facts. These facts have been discussed in Israeli courts and in the Israeli public arena, and are included in Israel’s Supreme Court ruling. The heart of this ruling was not the question of whether there were skeletons buried where the museum now stands, but the manner in which the bones in the “Purple Zone” would be handled.

The Wiesenthal Center never refuted the presence of human bones in the “Purple Zone,” which it depicted in court as “the heart” of the museum’s construction site.

Yes, the Wiesenthal Center won in court. One of the chief reasons was that the petitions against the project by representatives of Israel’s Muslim community were filed late in the game, after building permits had already been issued.

In its ruling, the court criticized the Wiesenthal Center for not showing more flexibility and for insisting on building where bones were found. The court also pointed to the irony of the Wiesenthal Center constructing a shrine to tolerance while being so insensitive to the sentiments of others.

Judge Edna Arbel wrote: “It is difficult not to wonder how the standard bearers of tolerance failed to grant proper consideration to the value of tolerance between peoples and among individuals, while weighing other considerations and interests, important as those may be. The case in question is the test of tolerance, tolerance in the sense of showing consideration for others, for their sentiments and their hurt, tolerance that safeguards human dignity and strengthens the existence of a democratic society.”

Arbel makes the same point I made in my article — that legalities notwithstanding, insisting on building an institution that celebrates tolerance where you know there are old graves is ethically repugnant. Furthermore, it weakens rather than strengthens the values of tolerance and democracy in Israeli society.

Ori Nir   |  Washington, D.C.

Americans for Peace Now


Jewish youth are sadly uneducated on the facts

I was very saddened by Simone Zimmerman’s op-ed “A minor victory, but a long way to go” (Sept. 23).

Was I sad because she was cheered by the reinstatement of the U.C. Berkeley course “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis”? No, not really. The debate as to whether the course shows free speech or hate speech will go on.

Was I saddened by her actively working to end the “occupation” of Judea and Samaria? No, for many Israelis, including ex-generals and well-meaning Jews, will continue to debate that. Jews love to debate, love to champion the “underdog.” Funny, we don’t seem to see young Palestinians arguing the Israeli side of the story, do we? Guess they don’t like “debate.”

But I was saddened by her statement that, when challenged as a freshman as to why she was against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, all she could muster was that it made her feel “sad.” Here a young, intelligent, expressive woman could not or would not educate herself about the intent of BDS to destroy Israel. Ask the movement’s founder, Omar Bargouti. Zimmerman is now in Tel Aviv, which Bargouti, Cal course organizer Paul Hadweh and their ilk all consider “occupied territory” and which would be gone, along with all of the Jews, if their true goals are met. Does she not read, listen or learn all the facts?

Are we losing the minds of our Jewish youth? Where did we fail? Truly, it makes me sad!

Marvin L. Engel   |   Piedmont


What a joke

Simone Zimmerman’s op-ed reminded me of a joke I heard years ago whose punch line defined a Jew as “a person too fair-minded to take his own side in a fight.”

Alan Manin   |   Clayton


Calling it an ‘occupation’ means renouncing Judaism

J.’s editorial advocating use of the term “occupation” to describe Israel’s presence in the West Bank is wrong on all counts (“Widen the Zionist tent by using the ‘O’ word,” Sept. 23).

First, the fact that people inhabit a certain area doesn’t necessarily mean they own it. Second, the term “occupation” normally refers to nations. Since the Palestinian Arabs are not a nation in any sense of the term, and have no valid national claims to the land of Israel, they cannot be considered “occupied.” Third, the Palestinian Arabs don’t wish to establish their own state, they wish to destroy the Jewish state, and their claim of nationhood is merely a fraudulent tactic to achieve that goal.

To say that Israel is “occupying” Arab land implies that the Jewish presence there is temporary and must end, while the Arab presence is permanent. In fact, Judea and Samaria are the heartland of the Jewish nation, the land promised by God to the Israelites in exchange for their promise to obey His commands. Saying that Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria constitutes an illegal occupation of land that rightfully belongs to someone else is equivalent to renouncing Judaism and denying the entire Torah. Taking such a position puts one not only on the wrong side of history, but also on the wrong side of God.

Martin Wasserman   |   Palo Alto


How to frame the name

I am responding to the editorial referring to the “O” word, “occupation.” What’s in a name? When I first visited Israel in 1971, 45 years ago, those on the left of the political spectrum referred to the West Bank as the occupied territories, those on the right referred to them as the liberated territories, and the majority in the middle called them the administered territories.

Lawrence W. White  |  San Francisco


Support Israel in ways that reflect personal values

This week Haaretz reported that while meeting with foreign ministers, Secretary of State John Kerry sternly criticized new Israeli construction in the settlements. Although he also criticized terror attacks and anti-Israeli incitement by the Palestinians, the thrust of his criticism was directed at Israel. He was reported to be extremely agitated, repeatedly raising his voice, and predicted that the Israelis and Palestinians are plunging toward a one-state “solution” — in other words, desperation and war. Commentators have speculated this his comments may foreshadow American support for a Security Council resolution aimed at resuscitating efforts to achieve a two-state solution.

I am thankful for the secretary’s continued concern and passion about this issue. One need not be a prophet to know that the path we are on now will only lead to more terror (or missile) attacks, more Israeli and Palestinian deaths, more hatred and more destruction. When and if the U.S. puts forward a road map for peace negotiations, assuming it is balanced, I will enthusiastically welcome it. Just as the shofar’s piercing notes are intended to wake us from our moral slumber and catalyze improved behavior, the secretary’s shrill call for action is ignored at our peril.

The High Holy Day season is traditionally a time to purchase Israeli bonds. This year I hope true “lovers of Zion” will divert their annual support of official Israeli causes to support for groups that reflect their personal values, groups that are working to return Israel to the moral principles on which she was founded. Happily, there are many such groups: the New Israel Fund, J Street and the Israel Religious Action Center each address issues that I personally find compelling. But I am confident that with a little effort, each person who wishes to support Israel can find at least one charity that addresses the issues Israel faces and does not support, even indirectly, settlement expansion — the greatest Israeli obstacle to peace.

Yonkel Goldstein   |   San Carlos


KPFA needs fuller picture on Middle East

KPFA announced it can no longer stay on the air full time and will have to be on the air only a few days a week. Here is my letter to them dated Sept. 8:

“I abhor your station’s general demonization of Israel and the many vicious (and stupid) statements about Israel, such as Israel committing ‘genocide’ against the Palestinian people and your refusal to give voice to the fundamental right of the Jewish people for self-determination and their choice of Israel as their nation. However, KPFA does have programs that I could not get elsewhere and that I highly value. So I have ended my economic boycott of the past 10 years of KPFA and its sister L.A. station KPFK …

“However, if KPFA does not restore some sanity in its presentation of the Palestine-Israel conflict, I will not continue my support. Essentially, how can I support a station that supports bigotry and hatred towards the Jewish people? Suggestion: interview some progressive Zionist Jews (from Israel and the U.S.) who are not linked to movements whose aim is to end and destroy Israel.”

Gerald A. Gerash   |   Walnut Creek