Ron DeSantis Is Persona Non Grata at a NY Holocaust Memorial
New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage bans the Florida governor to promote ‘its message of inclusivity.’
(Dont suppose Jerry Nadler or Chuck Schumer would have something to do with it)
By Elliott Abrams and Eric Cohen - WSJ
A remarkable Jewish renaissance is under way in Florida. Jewish schools and synagogues are rapidly expanding. Jews from the Northeast and Midwest, as well as Latin America and Israel, are migrating to the Sunshine State in significant numbers, making the Jewish communities there lively and varied. Florida’s booming and low-tax economy is no doubt one of the attractions to young Jews seeking to build a prosperous future for themselves and their families. So is Florida’s educational system, which provides tax credits that assist many parents in sending their children to Jewish day schools.
A few years ago, we helped launch the Jewish Leadership Conference, an annual gathering to consider the challenges facing the Jewish people and Israel. It is hosted by Tikvah, a 20-year old Jewish educational and cultural institution whose main activity in America is teaching young Jews about Jewish history and civilization. We thought it would be interesting to invite Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss how the “Florida model” has contributed to the growth and vitality of Jewish life in his state. The event was to be held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. Until, as the saying goes, we got canceled.
Over the years, Tikvah has hosted numerous conferences at the museum, always including prominent Jewish, Israeli and American thinkers and leaders of various political and religious points of view. We were working closely with the museum on the details for the June 12 event—until, out of the blue, we were told by the museum staff that Mr. DeSantis didn’t “align with the museum’s values and its message of inclusivity.” Either we disinvite the governor, they said, or our event was unwelcome.
Throughout the modern age, Jews have suffered the consequences of this kind of intolerance. We see it all the time on college campuses, where anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have become a tolerated (and even celebrated) form of discrimination. We see it in the boycott, divest and sanctions movement, which advocates treating Israel as a pariah. We see it in the U.N., with its odious anti-Israel Human Rights Council and with Amnesty International’s “apartheid state” calumny.
But we know things are bad when a Jewish institution—in this case, a museum whose purpose is to keep Jewish heritage alive by remembering the Holocaust—turns on its own and tries to make a virtue of its own intolerance.
What drives our elite institutions—museums, universities, large corporations, the media—to shut down speakers and ideas that question progressive orthodoxy? In many cases, the explanation is sheer cowardice. A lot of people dislike Mr. DeSantis, and the museum staff must have asked: What if there are protests? What if our progressive donors complain? In the current environment, protecting free speech requires moral and political courage. Many administrators, corporate CEOs and college presidents have weak spines. Preserving a free society requires at least some ability to respect other viewpoints and other people. The new czars of cancel culture seem to have little such moral imagination or civic tolerance.
The new thought police don’t see themselves as acting solely or primarily out of fear. They believe they are defending the good: inclusion against hate, equality against discrimination, victimized minorities against white privilege. Yet the pseudo-gospel of inclusion breaks down quickly. In the name of inclusivity, a Jewish museum sent us a clear message: Some people are to be excluded. In the name of fighting hate, the museum decided that the millions of Floridians who support Gov. DeSantis—including many Jews—are so hateful that they don’t even merit a voice in the great American conversation. A museum of tolerance has become intolerant.
When pressed for a further explanation of why our event was canceled, the museum’s CEO adopted a common form of doublespeak: We don’t do politics, he told us, whether left or right. Not surprisingly, this was false. In August 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then a Democratic candidate for Congress, was a featured speaker at an event at the museum, sponsored by the Immigrant Arts Coalition. Her speech was widely covered in the news—both before and after the event—including public criticism of the museum for giving such a vociferous critic of Israel a prominent platform at a Jewish institution. Yet the event went on as planned.
The museum has hosted other politicians, including then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and then-Mayor Bill de Blasio. In April the museum hosted a conversation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who recently described America as a society plagued by white supremacy and lauded America’s re-entry into the anti-Israel Human Rights Commission.
When we launched the Jewish Leadership Conference a few years ago, we gave our inaugural Herzl Prize for Jewish Leadership to the great freedom fighter Natan Sharansky, who endured nearly a decade in a Soviet prison in his fight to rejoin his people in Israel. In his memoir, “Fear No Evil,” he tells how the Soviet thought police suffocated liberty “not by tanks and missiles, or even camps and prisons,” but by turning free citizens into frightened supplicants, afraid to speak their minds.
The preservation of Jewish heritage depends not only on remembering the lost Jews of the past. It depends also on channeling those sacred memories toward a vibrant Jewish future—the kind of Jewish renaissance we are seeing today in Florida.
The Jewish Leadership Conference won’t be canceled, and the governor of the state with America’s third-largest Jewish population will speak. We will hold our event as planned, at a different, secular venue. But it is sad to see that the misguided leadership of a Jewish museum won’t allow alternative ideas a seat at the Jewish table.
Mr. Abrams is chairman and Mr. Cohen is CEO of Tikvah. They are co-chairmen of the Jewish Leadership Conference.