Jerusalem Hotel Divides U.S., Israel

Irving Moskowitz is 81 and lives in Miami Beach. A devout Jew and the father of eight children, he has made hundreds of millions of dollars in the hospital and casino businesses. With a foundation financed with the profits from a bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens, California, Moskowitz helps the victims of tsunamis, tornadoes and earthquakes, the poor in California and Israelis with cancer.

Moskowitz was born in New York to parents who immigrated to the United States from Poland. The Nazis killed many members of his family, which helps to explain why he is so passionate about Israel. He makes it clear that he wants to help develop the country into a "safe haven" for Jews from around the world, and he is consistent about living up to his promise. Moskowitz donates a lot of money -- his critics estimate $100 million (€70 million) to date -- to religious and often radical settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The multimillionaire first attracted attention in the early 1990s, when he provided financial support to settlers who were buying up houses in the Arab section of Jerusalem's Old City. After that, he helped acquire a piece of land on the Mount of Olives, near the Palestinian Ras al Amud neighborhood, triggering serious unrest. He supported subsequent projects in other Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, including Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. Hundreds of Israelis live in these neighborhoods today, in homes with bars on the windows, security cameras at all entrances and security forces for protection.

As a result, a ring has been placed around East Jerusalem that is intended to impede partition of the Israeli capital -- one of the political objectives of the American multimillionaire's acts of charity. Moskowitz makes no secret of his motives. He has compared the Oslo Accords, which were intended to encourage accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians, with the appeasement policies of the Western powers toward Hitler. Moskowitz refers to peace talks as "Israeli suicide."

In 1985, Moskowitz purchased the old Shepherd Hotel, a large, stone building on a hill in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The windowpanes are broken and dirty plastic tarps cover the window openings. It is a building with history, built as a residence in the 1930s by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini. It was later used as the headquarters of the Israeli border police.

The Shepherd Hotel stands empty today. Moskowitz wants to have it demolished so that he can erect apartment buildings for religious tenants on the property. He has just been granted a building permit for a structure consisting of 20 luxury apartments and an underground garage.

A Cool Act of Dissociation

The development project has become a political issue, which means that Moskowitz has achieved what he set out to do -- and that is to give symbolic clout to his venture. Even the White House and the State Department in Washington have turned their attention to Moskowitz's investment in East Jerusalem.

Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew made it clear to the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, that the Obama administration was not pleased. He told Oren that Israel, by approving such construction projects, sabotages negotiations with the Palestinians, and that it should refrain from taking "unilateral steps." It was a cool act of dissociation, unusual in the relationship between the US and Israel.

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