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What Happened When a Conservative Jewish Group Invited DeSantis to Speak

The Tikvah Fund, a conservative Jewish organization, was about to hold a conference in June at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, when months of planning were suddenly derailed due to the last-minute addition of a speaker who might once have been uncontroversial. : the Republican Governor of Florida.

The fund had invited Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss the vibrancy of Jewish life in Florida, a topic the fund wrote about in its magazine’s April issue, a month after DeSantis signed legislation banning Jewish life. classroom teaching and discussions about sexual orientation. and gender identity in elementary schools. Opponents have called the law “Don’t Say Gay”.

Tikvah signed a contract and sent it to the museum before Mr. DeSantis was added to the lineup, and trouble started once the band updated its lineup to include the Governor.

“Thank you for sharing this with me,” read an email to the fund from Trudy Chan, a museum official. Ms Chan noted that ensuring the Governor’s safety would not be an issue, but added: ‘We would need to check if there are any potential conflicts with your guest speakers. Please wait.”

The next day, Ms Chan asked the fund to “suspend” her deposit payment of $11,500 and requested a conversation with its executives, according to emails. In subsequent phone calls, Eric Cohen, the managing director of Tivkah, was told that an event with Mr. DeSantis could not take place at the museum, which describes itself as “a living memorial to the Holocaust”, because The “Don’t Say Gay” bill does not align with its values ​​of inclusivity, Mr. Cohen told The Times.

The museum has not allowed political speakers or events at its museum, Cohen said, despite recent events featuring Democratic politicians like New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“The museum implied that Tikvah wanted to hold a partisan political event,” Mr. Cohen said. “Our event does not endorse any candidate or serve any political party. It’s all about ideas, like all the previous conferences we’ve held at the museum. »

Museum chief executive Jack Kliger declined several interview requests for this story, but the museum explained its actions in a series of public statements expressing concern about the political nature of the event and the level of security that the governor might need. A spokesperson for the Museum of Jewish Heritage stressed that the museum had nothing to do with the event apart from discussing leasing its space to the Tikvah Fund.

Politics has become increasingly difficult for Jewish institutions in recent years as Americans divide over issues such as LGBTQ policies and the results of the 2020 presidential election. New York City does not exception. Neighborhoods with large populations of Reform Jews voted decisively for President Biden in the 2020 election, while those with large numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews voted overwhelmingly for Donald J. Trump.

This has put institutions like the Museum of Jewish Heritage in a very difficult position.

“As American domestic politics has become increasingly fiercely polarized, and more and more people see conservatives as not just different but fundamentally undemocratic or illiberal or authoritarian or racist, holding this big tent together is really , really difficult,” said Peter Beinart. , writer and editor of Jewish Currents, a progressive magazine, who also writes for the New York Times.

“Any institution that is built today on the need to serve both conservatives and progressives, whether it’s the NFL or a Jewish museum or whatever, finds that job increasingly difficult to do,” Beinart said.

The Tikvah Fund first aired its complaints against the museum in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, written by Mr. Cohen and Elliott Abrams, a national security official in several Republican presidential administrations and a special representative in the Trump administration.

In it, they accused the museum of engaging in a cancel culture and speculated that its leaders may have been afraid of the protests because “a lot of people don’t like Mr. DeSantis.”

“In the name of inclusivity, a Jewish museum has sent us a clear message: some people need to be excluded,” they wrote. “In the name of fighting hate, the museum has decided that the millions of Floridians who support Governor DeSantis – including many Jews – are so hateful that they don’t even deserve a voice in the great American conversation. museum of tolerance has become intolerant.

After the opinion piece was published, the museum released a public statement, saying the article “contains numerous factual inaccuracies” and described the decision as “simply a contractual and logistical decision.”

He invited Mr. DeSantis to “visit” the museum as a tourist and accused Tikvah of “trying to create a fight where there is none”.

“No one has been banned or canceled,” the statement read. “The fact is, 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.”

The museum had never signed the contract, but a negotiation between the two parties was ongoing, according to the Tivkah Fund, which said there had been a series of emails discussing the event and the rental fee for the museum. $23,000 from the museum before it was announced that Mr. DeSantis would join the lineup.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Mr Kliger accused Tikvah of “political bullying” and duplicity, saying he signed the contract just so he could accuse the museum of canceling it.

He wrote that the situation was due in part to the fund’s failure to promptly provide the museum with details about the conference, which appeared to be political in nature that violated the museum’s charter.

“When we refused to host the event, Tikvah resorted to threats, saying we had created an enemy,” Kliger wrote. “Tikvah knew it wasn’t about banning anyone from speaking, but decided to make the false statement anyway.”

In a subsequent statement to The Times, Mr. Kliger pointed to yet another reason. “Late in discussions” with Tikvah, the museum realized the event “deserved significant additional security,” he wrote. “The intensity of these security requirements clearly implied a potential level of activity around the conference that was not common practice for the museum.”

Mr. Kliger made this point in his letter to the Wall Street Journal. “This was not about banning or overriding Governor DeSantis,” he wrote. “The museum must consider the safety of visitors and staff.”

Governor DeSantis declined to comment, though a statement from his office chastised the museum for what he described as the politicization of a sacred space. “A Holocaust memorial should never be politicized,” he said, adding that the governor was committed to making Florida “a safe and welcoming home for Jewish people.”

The Tikvah Fund will still present the 2022 Jewish Leadership Conference. Appearing at Pier 60 in Manhattan in June alongside Governor DeSantis, a number of prominent speakers, including Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State under President Trump, and John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine.

Topics will include “How to Fight Revival: A Jewish View” — a conversation between Mr. Podhoretz and Bari Weiss, a former Times columnist — and “On Jewish Exceptionalism.”


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