Holocaust Museum Loses Funds Over DeSantis Snub – Sun Sentinel
(JNS) Two prominent Jewish curators have slammed New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage – A living Holocaust memorial in a the wall street journal May 6 editorial claiming museum staff told them they could not hold an event there if Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was asked to speak.
The op-ed, titled “Persona non grata at a Holocaust memorial,” was written by former US Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, along with Eric Cohen. They are respectively chairman and CEO of the Tikvah Fund, a conservative Jewish think tank that wanted to hold its annual Jewish leadership conference at the museum.
DeSantis, widely seen as a viable candidate for the presidency of the United States and a staunch ally of Israel, is a favorite of conservatives and a lightning rod for criticism from liberals for a number of policy positions he has taken.
“We agreed on a date for the event, and it was almost by chance that the museum saw the list of speakers. They needed to see the flow of the show, if you will, for AV reasons – which would be needed when. And that’s when some staff saw the full list of speakers and told us that DeSantis was unacceptable and couldn’t enter the building. It is unacceptable because ‘we don’t do politics,’ they said,” Abrams told JNS, pointing out that the Tikvah Fund was looking to rent a room at the museum, as other organizations can, and that the conference was never presented as an official museum event.
He went on to explain that “our initial assumption was that this decision came from an employee who may have had this view, but the CEO and the museum board would surely not share this view. So Eric Cohen spoke to the CEO, and he said that’s not just his point of view but the museum’s point of view. We presented him with a series of arguments, and he said he would consult, and I think he brought it up.
“He didn’t make this decision alone. He came back to us and said the decision stood,” Abrams said.
The museum’s president and CEO, Jack Kliger, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from JNS. The Museum of Jewish Heritage released a statement on May 6 that seemed to split hairs.
“Today we responded to a factually inaccurate opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal on a proposed rental event. Let’s be clear: no one has been banned or canceled. No contract with the Tikvah Fund was ever signed for this rental event to be held at the museum, and no deposit was ever made. It is not a problem of freedom of expression or censorship. The Tikvah Fund tries to create a fight where there is none. It was simply a contractual and logistical decision. We invite Governor DeSantis and elected officials from all walks of life to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust for a tour of our new exhibit, “The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do,” during his opening this summer. read the statement.
Yet the statement did not address the core of the Tikvah Fund’s complaint and appeared to be an attempt to turn the dispute into a contractual dispute. He also didn’t say DeSantis was welcome to speak at the museum but rather to visit. the New York Jewish Week reported that he obtained a copy of the contract between the Tikvah Fund and the museum, and Cohen said he signed it. The contract would state that museum facilities cannot be used to advance any particular religious doctrine, political fundraising, or activity that champions a political candidate, group, or ideology.
“We hope this is all just a misunderstanding”
The museum’s position also conflicts with the fact that progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), a frequent critic of Israel, spoke at an event at the museum in 2018 during her run in the room. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — all Democrats — also spoke at various events at the museum.
“A Jewish museum that allowed [Ocasio-Cortez] talking on his campaign trail is telling lies when you say DeSantis can’t talk because ‘we don’t do politics,'” Abrams said.
After discussing the contradiction with Kliger, Abrams told JNS: “There was no response. We are left to speculate on why Governor DeSantis is not allowed to speak. We all have the same assumptions. It hasn’t been explained beyond the lie that they don’t have political figures speaking there,” he said. “He’s the governor of the state with the third largest Jewish population in the country, and he’s not able to speak in this museum. It’s beyond belief.
A spokesperson for DeSantis told JNS that his office was unaware of the controversy until he read about it in the newspaper.
“The WSJ The editorial from the Tikvah leaders was the first I heard about this, and by the way, it is an outstanding and courageous editorial! I would just like to add the comment that Governor DeSantis has always been a loyal friend to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel. As Mr. Abrams and Mr. Cohen write in WSJ, “A remarkable Jewish renaissance is underway in Florida” under Governor DeSantis’ leadership as he enacted policies that help Florida’s Jewish community thrive,” spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told JNS. “We hope this is all just a misunderstanding and [that] the museum management will rectify the situation because a Holocaust memorial should never be politicized.
Republican New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, council minority whip and member of the Jewish Caucus — and one of the city’s few Republican lawmakers — co-wrote a scathing letter to Kliger, saying she lobbied for museum funding and allocated money from his discretionary pot. She warned that if the museum did not change course, she would end its financial support and encourage others to do the same.
“The lessons of the Holocaust are countless, but one of the most critical is this: intolerance in all its forms breeds hostility, repression and ultimately discrimination,” she wrote, with City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli. “For a museum that aims to educate against these exact evils, I urge a speedy reconsideration of the intolerant practice of banning a Republican governor for simply having different views.”
On May 8, that’s exactly what she did. She withdrew $5,000 of funding that was intended for the museum, because reported in the New York Post.
“They should understand the ramifications of their actions”
The museum’s decision could have wider financial implications. Heshy Seif, who sits on the boards of several Jewish organizations that might normally rent space at the museum for events, said he would now encourage them to choose another location.
“I am of the opinion that Jewish groups/yeshivot should not use the museum for their dinner parties in the future. I urge any organization I support to suspend their support of the museum. Of all institutions, they should understand the ramifications of their actions,” he wrote to JNS.
The Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), a collective of politically conservative rabbis, said it “castigated” the museum for its decision.
“Long before progressives began to use the term ‘revival’, leftists in the Jewish community embraced tikkun olam“fixing the world,” completely ripping it out of context as a synonym for so-called “social justice,” said Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, president of the CJV rabbinical circle. “Another example of this same misnomer. The Jewish heritage is one of free and open speech, and of holding ideas in the light of critical scrutiny. We should expect better from a institution called the Museum of Jewish Heritage.”
The Tikvah Fund still plans to hold the Jewish Leadership Conference, as scheduled, on June 12, now at Pier 60 in New York City. Among the scheduled speakers are DeSantis; former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer; and journalist and publisher Bari Weiss.
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