Two NYC Councilmembers speak out against museum's censorship

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA in West Palm Beach, Florida, December 22, 2018. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

It’s one of those stories that’s so outrageous, so despicable, that a comprehensive consumer of media instantly wonders if it’s even real. It is. And it couldn’t be more shameful.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been banned from the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage.

An organization called Tikvah, which bills itself as investing in a wide range of Jewish initiatives around the world, had booked the museum for its conference, a gathering with a 20-year history meant to teach young Jews about Jewish history. Tikvah had invited Gov. DeSantis, to discuss the ways in which his state has become a beacon to young Jewish families, who are attracted to Florida’s booming economy, no state income tax and educational system that provides tax credits for tuition at religious schools.

The governor has cultivated and benefited from warm and supportive relationships throughout the Jewish community over his entire political career. And his recent high-profile fights with Disney over its weeding into his state’s politics and his administration’s permissive stance on Covid has earned him star status in the Republican Party, making him a highly desirable guest for a gathering of this kind. The event’s other speakers include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss.

Two of Tikvah’s board members, Elliott Abrams and Eric Cohen, who are respectively the group’s chairman and longtime executive director, have now revealed in a powerful essay in the Wall Street Journal that the museum had banned DeSantis. They said they were told that “DeSantis doesn’t align with the museums values and its message of inclusivity.”

Elliott Abrams, Chairman of Tikvah. (Photo: tikvahfund.org)

They were given the option of either disinviting the governor or moving the event to another venue. When they inquired about how a popular sitting governor of a state that recently surpassed New York in population could possibly be banned, they were told that the museum doesn’t “do politics whether left or right. “

The two board members pointed out that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a supporter of the anti-Israel BDS movement, had been welcomed in 2018, as had plenty of other elected officials, including former Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Those are all Democrats, but it wasn’t always that way at the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage. I have personally been to the museum with Rudy Giuliani, who even during the darkest days of post 9-11 planning, when the mayor’s team was meeting in a bunker on Pier 92, made time for legendary district attorney Robert Morgenthau to advocate for the downtown museum to be part of the recovery plan. I remember Gov. Pataki supporting the museum as well and feel certain he must have made an official appearance there.

So this sudden ban on a governor  — in the name of “inclusivity,” no less— should strike fear into the hearts of any American who values diversity of thought and hearing from a range of voices. It is also contrary to the Jewish values of kavod (respect) and v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha, which teaches us (Leviticus 19:18) to love your neighbor as yourself, meaning, embrace others, including those who may not see the world in precisely the same way.

The Media Globe can report that there are at least a few elected officials remaining in New York City who believe in the First Amendment and actually mean it when they talk about diversity. Including diversity of thought.

Councilmember Inna Vernikov, the Minority Whip, has written a letter to Jack Kliger, the President and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage. It was also signed by Councilmember Joe Borrelli, the City Council minority leader.

Their letter said:

As you are aware, when the Nazis came to power in the 1930s, one of their first moves was to eliminate civil rights of the people, including freedom of speech. Hitler understood that in order to control the German people, he had to prevent them from hearing opposing viewpoints and freely expressed ideas.

In modern day America, we have seen attempts to “cancel” political speech, in a way that is reminiscent of Nazi and Soviet Era censorship.

With that knowledge in mind, you can 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.”

Governor DeSantis is one of more than 36 million Republicans in America. To suggest that his political views are unwelcome at MJH, is to suggest that 36 million Americans are unwelcome there.

The Globe reached out to Councilmember Vernikov for comment, as well as to Abrams and Cohen at Tikvah. If we hear back, this developing story will be updated. Meanwhile, the Museum has put out a statement calling the Wall Street Journal story “factually inaccurate.” The official twitter of the museum says that “No one was banned or cancelled. The fact is that 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 statement says the museum would welcome Gov. DeSantis to visit the museum but is silent on whether he’d be allowed to speak or be featured in an event there.

By Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson, the founder of The Media Globe, was editor in chief of the New York Observer (2013-2017) and covered finance for Esquire for nearly 20 years. Read more about Ken Kurson at kenkurson.com.