Commitment to tolerance
Governor lends poignancy to unveiling of plans for
By Margaret Talev -- Bee Capitol Bureau - (Published
May 3, 2004)
JERUSALEM - Starstruck Israelis sat spellbound under
the bright sun in this holy city Sunday as California
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered his devotion to the
Jewish state, expressed a poignant sorrow over the
Holocaust and unveiled plans for a museum promoting
peace in the Middle East.
"I think to myself, if only those who were cramped
into the dark boxcars and crowded bunks could have
glimpsed what we are doing here today," the movie
star-turned-politician told hundreds gathered at a
parking lot in the city center, where the Center for
Human Dignity and Museum of Tolerance is to be built
over the next three years. "If only those in the camps
could know that we have them in our heart a half a
Today, Schwarzenegger was to travel to Jordan by
helicopter to lunch with King Abdullah II, his only
scheduled meeting with an Arab official during this
trip. He also was to fly to Ramstein Air Base in
Germany to visit U.S. troops wounded in Iraq.
But for the 56-year-old Schwarzenegger, an
Austrian-born Catholic and the son of a Nazi soldier,
the museum event that prompted his first foreign
mission as governor and a hushed and somber trip later
in the day to Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem to lay a
wreath atop the ashes of Jews killed in concentration
camps marked high points of the three-day trip and of
his two decades of activism on behalf of Jewish
But Israeli politics and a related spate of violence
cast a shadow over the day.
As Likud Party members voted to oppose Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from settlements in
the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants in the occupied
territory killed an Israeli mother and her four
children and wounded two soldiers. Hours later,
Israelis were reported to have launched an airstrike
on a car in the West Bank, killing four Palestinian
Palestinian leaders distrust the withdrawal plan, and
hard-line Israelis see it as capitulation.
Schwarzenegger for weeks avoided California reporters'
questions about his position on the Palestinian land
question. But at a joint news conference Sunday
morning with Sharon, packed with Israel-based
reporters, he left the impression he supported the
prime minister's plan.
"I hope the election will turn out the way the
basketball game turned out yesterday, a great
victory," he said, referring to the Maccabi Tel Aviv
team's decisive win in the Euroleague championship
final. His aides said later that he was not
necessarily endorsing Sharon's Gaza proposal but
rather expressing his support for whatever voters
At the museum unveiling, a hard-line heckler
interrupted the governor's speech, yelling out, "Hey
Schwarzenegger, there's no terminating occupation!"
Guards promptly grabbed the young man around the neck
and forced him into his seat.
Schwarzenegger urged Israelis in the crowd to "look
past the suicide bombers, past the terrorists, past
the blood, the violence and the hatred."
But even as political dignitaries took to the stage to
agree on the need to reach an understanding with their
non-Jewish neighbors, their rhetoric revealed their
own fears and political biases. Finance Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu talked of what he saw as a need
sometimes to kill in order to achieve peace, to combat
"the demons of militant Islam."
Despite Sunday's violence, the museum ceremony began
on an upbeat note.
A boys choir dressed in white suits and blue shirts
serenaded Schwarzenegger with their rendition of the
1960s classic "California Dreamin'," and a crowd of
teenage boys who apparently idolized the governor's
role as a robot in his "Terminator" action movies went
wild when he acknowledged them from the stage.
A hush fell over the crowd as Schwarzenegger turned
his comments to Holocaust survivors, community leaders
and early citizens of the Jewish state created in
In a speech rich with biblical references and personal
revelations, Schwarzenegger spoke of the legacy of
King Solomon, and of once seeing a quilt made from the
clothes of Jews shipped to concentration camps.
"I remember thinking, 'What happened to the people who
wore this clothing? Did they survive or did they
perish?' " he said.
Schwarzenegger called on God to "make a covenant with
Israel." And he said, "Let this building begin a new
Passover, when hatred and intolerance passes over
Israel, passes over the Middle East, passes over all
of those who would carry vile things in their hearts."
Edna Chen, a 54-year-old nurse from the Jerusalem
suburbs, listened with moist eyes. Her mother was an
Austrian Jew who fled Vienna for England during World
War II and moved the family to Israel during the
Zionist movement. Chen said she liked Schwarzenegger's
movies but also appreciated his efforts to call
attention to the Nazi horrors that swept in so many
Germans and Austrians, including Schwarzenegger's
"It's very nice he's come to Jerusalem," she said.
Israel's top political figures, including Sharon,
President Moshe Katsav and Labor Party leader Shimon
Peres, praised the $200 million museum project being
directed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los
Angeles-based Holocaust remembrance group for which
Schwarzenegger is a top fund-raiser.
And at a Wiesenthal Center dinner Sunday night,
Schwarzenegger put aside his prepared remarks and told
the guests his support for the museum is genuine, not
"Let me tell you something, I'm not doing anyone a
favor here - no one," he said. "It is my duty."
Not all Israelis are embracing the museum plans. An
editorial Sunday in the newspaper Haaretz said that
the "outrageous cost" of the project was making "a
mockery of the city's large number of poor." Others
noted there already are a number of centers in Israel
that offer social tolerance programs, including Yad
Vashem and a smaller museum that sits on the line that
once divided Jerusalem between Israel and Jordan.
Many in the crowd at the unveiling admitted they
hadn't paid attention to the museum project until they
heard Schwarzenegger was visiting to promote it.
"I think it's a great idea," said one of his movie
fans, 20-year-old Judah Hirsch. "There are a couple of
nice Arabs here, but for the most part it's difficult
because our cultures are so far apart, our religions."
Still, Hirsch had limited expectations for the museum.
"It'll be a nice tourist attraction," he said. "But I
doubt very much it's going to lay the pillars for