WASHINGTON (Mar. 5)
President Clinton has moved to avoid another flare-up at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by reappointing Miles Lerman this week as the head of its governing body.
Lerman, whose five-year term as chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council was set to expire in May, embroiled the museum in controversy earlier this year when he flip-flopped on extending an invitation to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the museum.
Lerman absorbed a second round of criticism last month after the museum council forced Walter Reich, the museum’s director, to resign in the wake of the incident.
In several highly visible op-ed pieces, supporters of Reich, including Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Marvin Kalb, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, accused the museum council of unfairly scapegoating him.
Lerman blamed the Arafat episode on “bad advice” from Reich, who opposed the visit. Lerman later acknowledged that he had erred by failing to consult with the council’s executive committee about the invitation.
Some Reich supporters publicly called on Clinton to replace Lerman, contributing to an atmosphere that museum officials worried would prove damaging to the institution.
For that reason, observers said, the Clinton administration decided to act sooner rather than later on Lerman’s reappointment in order to defuse any further controversy.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a member of the museum council, called Lerman’s reappointment “good news for all those concerned with the memory of the Holocaust.”
“He has proven himself to be an effective, dynamic leader,” he added. “These are still the formative years of the museum and it will continue to need wise leadership and successful fund raising, and he has proven himself adept at both.”
The search for Reich’s replacement, meanwhile, continues. The museum’s associate director, Sara Bloomfield, who has worked at the museum and before that at its organizing group for nearly 12 years, will become acting director April 1.