February 5, 2023

Tells Media Globe: ‘We are our own worst enemies’

Born in Ukraine, lawyer Inna Vernikov stunned the city when she won a seat in Brooklyn as a Republican. (Photo: New York City Council)

New York City Councilmember Inna Vernikov has earned national attention this week by reprimanding the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage, denouncing the institution for prohibiting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from speaking at an event sponsored by the group Tikvah.

On Friday, Vernikov told the Media Globe in an interview she placed the blame for this stunning snub squarely on the shoulders of “liberal Jews.”

“This is no surprise to me at this point. We are our own worst enemies. Most Jews in America today are liberal,” she says. The data bears out this assertion. According to Pew Research, 68% of Jews identify with the Republican Party or lean Democratic and just 26% of US Jews overall identify with the Republican Party or lean toward the GOP.

Councilmember Vernikov, who was born in Ukraine, offered a theory on why that might be, despite a noticeable drift away from Jewish issues, including Israel, by the Democratic Party.

“Maybe it’s because many of them were not born to communism or socialism and don’t appreciate how privileged we are to live in a free country. Instead they think we are part of a people who hold ‘white privilege.'”

As covered by the Media Globe and others, the museum told Tikvah leaders Elliott Abrams and Eric Cohen that the governor would not be allowed to appear at their event. The museum disputes this characterization, claiming that canceling the event was a “contractual and logistical decision,” but the two Tikvah leaders stand by their version, saying that they were told “DeSantis doesn’t align with the museums values and its message of inclusivity.”

What made this such a stunning development—as if denying a platform to the popular sitting governor of the third-largest state wasn’t stunning enough—is that Gov. DeSantis has a long history of support and friendship in the Jewish community. What’s more, the museum, despite its claims not to “do politics whether left or right” has in the past hosted many elected officials. That includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who co-sponsored Rep. Ilhan Omar’s resolution defending boycotts such as the BDS movement targeting Israel. Earlier this year, AOC took heat for saying, “I don’t believe a child should be in a cage in the West Bank,” implying that the Israeli government was taking such actions.

Councilmember Vernikov’s 48th Council District includes areas of Brooklyn such as Brighton Beach, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, and Luna Park, penned a powerful letter to the Battery Park Museum and its CEO Jack Kliger. The entire letter is worth reading, but a highlight included:

Imagine my surprise to see MJH engaging in a form of “cancel culture,” prohibiting Florida Governor DeSantis, a duly elected government official representing 21 million people, including more than half a million Jews, from attending a Jewish Leadership Conference at the museum. According to Museum staff, DeSantis was banned because his views “don’t align with the museum’s values and its message of inclusivity.”

The Globe asked Vernikov to explain what has become of the Jewish tradition of valuing diversity of opinion and hearing from multiple voices. After all, even the Talmud consists of warring arguments and the reader is encouraged not to follow blindly but to consider the thoughtful presentations of each commentator.

“Liberal Jews have no self respect,” Vernikov told the Media Globe. “They believe we need to save the world but not ourselves. They believe that Jews are all rich, smart, and can sustain themselves and are obligated to help everyone else. We are always at the forefront of humanitarian aid, civil rights, and charity for other minorities and ethnicities. That’s all respectful and necessary. But what about ourselves? We are not privileged. We are the underdog, too. We’re just underdogs who moved past persecution and oppression and learned how to thrive. We rose from the ashes of the Holocaust and re-built. Others need to do the same. Liberal Jews of today, like other progressives, live in a world not reflective of reality and base their decision on emotion rather than facts and logic.”

One can decide for oneself whether to agree with Vernikov’s diagnosis of the problem. What’s harder to dispute, in an era in which most leaders hide behind “no comment” and a phalanx of spokespersons, is the total refreshingness of an elected official who responds promptly and with passion.