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November 11, 1999
Advani May Come Off 'Demagogue Wall'
Indian Home Minister L K Advani may be at the end of his five-year sojourn at a 'Demagogue Wall' in the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
The museum, part of the Simon Weisenthal Center, visited by the likes of the Dalai Lama, puts up pictures on the Wall to warn against people of extremist ideology. Following protests by many Indian community leaders, the museum has begun reviewing Advani's legacy.
According to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Weisenthal Center, the museum has received many letters offering reasons and explanations why Advani does not belong on the wall, why he and should never be bracketed with Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein.
Advani's picture is located inches away from David Duke, a former Klux Klan member, and an outspoken critic of Jews, immigrants and multiculturalism. Duke has unsuccessfully sought to contest for high positions in his native state of Louisiana on a Republican Party ticket, angering moderate Republicans in particular.
The 8x10 inch photograph, which shows Advani smiling and waving, is the kind of picture that the Bharatiya Janata Party could use.
Cooper declined to say exactly where the museum got the photograph from and also refused to divulge any information about the panel which decides to confer the "dishonorable" status.
"We are going do a review in a few weeks and he [Advani] maybe exonerated. We usually remove pictures if people send in requests and if we see any change," said Cooper, who added that he was really "surprised" the attention the wall received in recent weeks, especially from Indian Americans.
"We also have a picture of Gandhi, but I don't hear a word about that," Cooper said. The Mahatma's picture is used as an inspirational object.
Cooper said the museum keeps an eye on the changing world and the people who shape events.
"We put them on the wall to educate them on their acts. If they change and deviate away from their past, we take the picture off," said Cooper. He told an Indian American activist that over a decade ago the Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat's picture belonged to the Demagogue Wall but since he has changed now, it would have no place there.
Sunil Aghi who brought the Advani issue to the rabbi's attention, said he was surprised that the picture has been sitting there for five years and the Indian community was not aware of it. A friend brought the picture to Aghi's attention.
"Irrespective of what I think of the BJP," Aghi said, "I don't think Advani deserved to be in company of Idi Amin and Hussein. For that matter no Indian leader, never mind what his or her faults are, deserves to be there."
There are no captions next to the pictures.
"But we hope the message of what the person stands for gets across the visitors," said Cooper.
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