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ADL Joins Opposition to State Funds for Museum Planned by Wiesenthal Center

The Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith reported today the “unanimous opposition” of the four California regional ADL offices to a grant pending in the California legislature for $5 million in state matching funds to enable the Simon Wiesenthal Center to build a “Museum of Tolerance.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of both the Wiesenthal Center and Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, which houses the center, has assailed foes of the expected state grant to help build the museum as part of a $10.5 million expansion project.

The campaign has already raised more than $10.5 million in private donations. But the grant measure, SB337, has created concern among Jews about its constitutionality and its public policy implications.

FINAL LEGISLATURE APPROVAL NEAR

Authored and introduced in February by State Senate President Pro-tem David Roberti, a Los Angeles Democrat, the measure has been approved by two Senate committees, and the full Senate, the last by a 36-1 vote; and two Assembly committees. The Assembly Ways and Means committee approved the measure in late May. Senate Bill 337 now awaits a reexamination in July, under a rule requiring that procedure, after the state budget is approved, on all bills calling for state spending of more than $1 million.

A major critical position was taken by The Los Angeles Times in an editorial asserting the project would violate the constitutional separation of church and state because it would provide state funds for a religious institution.

A spokesman for the local American Jewish Congress testified that while it favored the museum, it feared that, in funding it, California would set a precedent obligating it to aid other ethnic groups who may also want to build museums. Phil Baum, associate executive director of the AJCongress, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his organization’s opposition was not on constitutional grounds.

HIER CALLS CONSTITUTIONALITY ISSUE SMOKESCREEN

Hier said that he regarded the issue of constitutionality as a smokescreen to masquerade “the real objective” of foes of the grant which, he said, was that the Wiesenthal Center should not be “in control of an impressive museum with the state behind it.”

Nevertheless, papers were filed incorporating the Wiesenthal Center as a non-profit corporation, separate from Yeshiva University.

The ADL opposition statement was the latest major public stand strongly opposing the measure. Although Howard Friedman, a Los Angeles attorney, who is president of the American Jewish Committee, said the bill would create “exceedingly bad public policy,” he spoke as an individual. The AJCommittee has not taken any position on the measure.

Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican, has said he will sign the bill when it arrives on his desk.

The ADL statement was a copy of a letter sent to Roberti on behalf of ADL regional offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Ana and San Diego. The letter declared that the four offices covers all of California and that the letter has been sent also to all members of the Legislature and to the Governor.

The letter said the four ADL offices “join the many others who have registered opposition to SB337.” The letter listed the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco; the Northern California Jewish Bulletin; Rabbi Alfred Wolf of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the largest Reform congregation in Los Angeles; Howard Friedman, and Fred Diamant, president of the “1939 Club,” an organization comprised of Holocaust survivors.

The letters then listed the wide range of programs sponsored by the ADL opposing the Nazis and the Holocaust, and programs to educate Jews and non-Jews about the Holocaust.

ADL SUGGESTS FUNDS GOING TO STATE UNIVERSITY

In explaining its opposition, the letter said “granting $5 million in public funds for a museum which would chronicle the Holocaust and the genocide’s which have befallen so many people during the 20th century is an excellent idea.” However, the letter added, “the funds should be given to an appropriate public institution such as the University of California, or the California State University, for this objective.”

The ADL letter added that “we believe the museum should be located on public property under the direction of an appropriate public and academic governing body.”

POINTS TO FEDERAL PRECEDENT

The ADL letter also rejected the incorporation of the Wiesenthal Center as a non-religious agency, asserting that while the center incorporated itself, since SB337was introduced, “so that it is now separate from the religious institution which gave birth to it, the fact remains that present plans call for the museum to be located on the same property as the religious school with an interlocking board of directors” with the Wiesenthal Center.

The letter said it was the ADL’s collective judgement that “the crucial issue raised by SB337 is public policy and preserving independent integrity of an institution which will benefit from a grant of $5 million in public funds.”

The letter said that “we fervently believe that your views and those of every member of the California legislature would best be served if our great state followed the precedent set by our federal government which established the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council without any formal ties to private organizations, sectarian or non-sectarian.”

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