Ah, yes, tolerance. According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) tolerance is “the ability to accept things one does not like or disagrees with.” According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center tolerance means that Palestinians should simply accept the desecration of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem and allow the Center to build a branch of their—wait for it—Museum of Tolerance over the centuries-old graveyard.
The cemetery is Ma’man Allah, a graveyard for Palestinian dead for hundreds of years, fell into disrepair in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled during the Israeli War of Independence. The museum, called the Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, was given the land by the City of Jerusalem in 2002.
The irony of this is palpable. A museum called the Center for Human Dignity built over a desecrated graveyard? Can it be that our fetishistic passion for the Shoah/Holocaust has so corrupted our sense of morality that we can build such a thing without shame? Can it be that as we fight to preserve the dignity of Jewish graves, we can trample on the dignity of Palestinian graves? Is there anything left of the Jewish soul, or have we sold it to the devil of jingoism and tribalism?
Imagine a Muslim peace group trying to build a center for peace over a Jewish graveyard. Even if they promised to move the bodies and rebury them (something the Center for Human Dignity plans to do), the Jewish world would be up in arms. But when we do it to Muslims we expect them to simply tolerate it.
Not everyone is silent, however. Rabbi David Schmidl of Atra Kadisha, an organization devoted to the defense of Jewish graves, has spoken out against the project, as have several other Jewish activists both secular and religious. But the Israeli courts have sided with the Center, and, to the best of my knowledge, the Jewish world is largely silent on this issue.
I do not dispute that Ma’man Allah is in Israel. I do not dispute Israel’s right to exist. Indeed it may even be legal for the city of Jerusalem to give graveyards of any religious group over to contractors to build whatever they please. I do not know Israeli law, and I do not pretend to dispute it. All I am saying is that any Jew worth the name should be appalled at Jewish desecration of another people’s cemetery. And that is what really frightens me. We are no longer Jews.
I grew up believing that Jews were called to serve justice and compassion; that our God was the power that liberates humanity from slavery, injustice, cruelty, and war; that any interpretation of Torah that did not promote justice and compassion was a false interpretation; and that the State of Israel was to be the place where the highest Jewish ideals could be forged into living principles.
This was the Judaism that spoke to me, that called me to the rabbinate; that sustained me and nourished me, and made me proud to be a Jew. Is this Judaism dead? Has it been sacrificed to the false god of tribalism? Have we Jews reverted to a vicious tribalism that excuses immorality in the name of god and the state this god supposedly sanctions?
I know that some of you will come to the defense of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; and some will talk about Muslim desecration of Jewish cemeteries as if that made Jewish desecration of Muslim cemeteries OK. I understand this. It just saddens me that we allow ourselves to be defined by the lowest moral denominator when we used to be the people of the highest. If you cannot feel shame; at least feel the irony. As for me, I feel both.