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 www.TwoPeoplesOneFuture.org.