Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance wins Knesset approval to build

After years of delays due to legal challenges and fundraising setbacks, the Simon Wiesenthal Center received permission on July 12 from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior’s District Planning and Construction Committee to begin construction on the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. The ministry gave a green light to a revised design for the building, saying that because the building’s footprint would remain the same as an earlier plan, a new review process would not be necessary.

The new design, by Chyutin Architects, a local Israeli firm, replaces a previous plan by Los Angeles superstar Frank O. Gehry, who pulled out of the process when funding shortfalls forced the Wiesenthal Center to request a scaled-back version.

For years, Palestinian leaders had fought to halt the project, claiming that the site on which it is to be built is an ancient Muslim burial ground.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s founder and dean, welcomed the decision, which he said will allow for construction to begin immediately.

“We have the full blessing and endorsement of the government of Israel, and the prime minister of Israel and the mayor of Jerusalem,” Hier said.

Groundbreaking for the museum officially kicked off in 2004, but construction was halted in 2006 when Arab leaders in Israel sued to stop work after bones were unearthed during excavation at the site. In 2008, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the Simon Wiesenthal Center could build on the site.

“The Supreme Court reviewed the Palestinian claims for three years and ruled unanimously that, for more than half a century, Muslims no longer considered that site to be part of the cemetery,” Hier said.

With the global economic downturn, the project was then reformulated. What had been a $250 million building designed by Gehry was reconceived as a $100 million project.

The question answered at the Knesset on July 12 was a technical one about the building’s footprint, according to Hier. The permit allows the Wiesenthal Center to build without restarting the planning process. “We are building on the same three-and-a-half acres,” Hier said.

Hier said that the center has raised $45 million, which will allow construction to begin by September. He said the building will take three years to complete.

Homegrown terrorist who planned Los Angeles attacks sentenced to 22 years

A member of a four-man homegrown terrorist cell that planned to attack Israeli and Jewish targets three years ago in Los Angeles was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison Monday.

Levar Haney Washington, 30, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to levy war against the United States through terrorism.

The prison-hatched conspiracy targeted the Israeli consulate and some of its officials, the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport and two synagogues in the predominantly Orthodox Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Also on the target list were U.S. military recruiting stations.

Members of the cell were three American-born converts to Islam – Washington, Gregory Vernon Patterson and Kevin Lamar James – and a Pakistani national, Hamad Riaz Samana.

According to the indictment, James founded the cell while in California state prison and named it Janiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh (JIS), roughly translated as the Assembly of Authentic Islam, an extremist offshoot of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.

The plot was discovered through a lucky break in July 2005, when Torrance police found a mobile phone dropped by Patterson while he and Washington were robbing a gas station to finance their operations.

The find led police to Washington’s apartment, where they found “jihadist” literature, bulletproof vests, and a list that included the “headquarters of Zion” with the address of the Israeli consulate.

Some 200 local and federal agents of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force participated in the subsequent investigation, with officials warning that “the conspirators were on the edge of launching their attack” – apparently on Yom Kippur.

Throughout the 2005 High Holidays, the Jewish community and law enforcement agencies were on high alert, with rabbis and lay leaders trying to strike a balance between maintaining security and avoiding panic.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal center, urged prison officials on Monday “to ensure that terrorist groups are not able to recruit prisoners for their culture of death.”

James and Patterson have also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Samana was declared incompetent to stand trial and is confined to a hospital.