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Boycott of Holocaust Museum Threatened for Gay Inclusion

March 12, 1997
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Two groups of Orthodox rabbis are threatening to issue a religious edict banning visits to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as long as it includes information about gay victims of the Nazis.

Rabbi Yehuda Levin, a representative of both groups — the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and the Rabbinical Alliance of America – – also testified on the matter last week before a congressional subcommittee in charge of allocating funds to the Holocaust memorial.

Levin called on Congress to withhold the annual $25 to $30 million in federal funds to the Holocaust memorial until the museum finds “a way to stop elevating the status of homosexuals to Jewish people.”

Each of the Manhattan-based rabbinical organizations claims to have more than 600 members, most of whom are right-of-center religious leaders.

If Congress does not act, Levin said, the rabbinical groups plan to issue the ban against visiting and to organize a boycott of the memorial.

Representatives of gay and lesbian Jewish groups responded to the Orthodox rabbis’ effort with incredulity and anger.

Officials of the Holocaust memorial declined to comment on the new campaign, but said the memorial has taken pains to ensure that exhibits accurately reflect the extent of persecution of different communities.

This is not the first time that there have been efforts to exclude material about gay victims of the Holocaust from memorials.

The chairman of the Family Defense Council, Howard Hurwitz, has protested plans to include information about homosexual victims in New York City’s Holocaust memorial, which is scheduled to open later this year.

In a statement issued Monday, the Union of Orthodox rabbis, said, “We strongly urge people not to visit museums that maintain exhibits glorifying homosexuality.

“We declare that the Torah absolutely prohibits the viewing by anyone, especially children, of such homosexual exhibits that insult and desecrate the memory of the millions of innocent victims of the Holocaust.”

“It’s a perversion” to include material about gay victims of the Holocaust, Levin said at the congressional hearing last week. “Do we have a prostitutes’ exhibit?”

Between 10,000 and 15,000 homosexuals were killed by the Nazis.

To compare that number “with 6 million Jews or even Gypsies and others targeted for elimination is an outrage,” Levin said in an interview.

Homosexuals “were not rounded up, were not gassed, and many were paramours of guards” at the labor and death camps where they were imprisoned, said Levin, who last year served as honorary chairman of Patrick Buchanan’s presidential campaign.

Each year, he addresses the anti-abortion protesters who march in Washington on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Levin, who lives in Brooklyn, also ran for mayor of New York City in 1985, on the Right-to-Life ticket, and is considering a run in the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary here.

Levin said inclusion in the Holocaust memorials is part of a strategy by a “political homosexual network” to gain mainstream acceptance.

Representatives of gay and lesbian Jewish groups dismissed that claim.

“The only pressure that exists from the gay and lesbian Jewish community is that the truth be told and that the historical record be clear,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, leader of Manhattan’s main gay and lesbian synagogue and a member of the Holocaust memorial’s Lesbian and Gay Planning Committee.

The committee has raised about $1.5 million for the Holocaust memorial in the last two years, she said.

“Nobody’s trying to equate” the scale of Jewish and gay suffering under Naziism, she said.

Lee Walzer, vice president of the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations, said, “To call for a boycott of such an august institution as the U.S. Holocaust museum is regrettable in the extreme. These rabbis should know better than to engage in this type of hateful, incendiary rhetoric,” Walzer said.

His organization claims to represent 15,000 people in 65 gay and lesbian Jewish groups in North America, Israel and around the world.

Rabbi Steven Dworken, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents more than 1,000 Orthodox rabbis, also took issue with Levin’s groups.

“No one has a right to kill someone else and annihilate them no matter what their beliefs are,” he said.

According to Orthodox Judaism, homosexuality is “an aberrant lifestyle and cannot be accorded any type of legitimacy,” Dworken said. “However, to try to dissuade the U.S. population from learning the lessons of the Holocaust because of this would be a mistake.”

A spokeswoman for the museum, Mary Morrison, said there is no special section singling out homosexual victims of the Nazis. She cited as an example of their inclusion a wall in the museum’s permanent exhibit that is full of small photographs of Holocaust victims, the overwhelming majority of which portray Jews. Some of the photographs are of men who were gay and persecuted for that reason.

“The primary focus is on Jewish victims, because that’s primarily who it happened to,” she said, adding, “It is impossible to leave the museum and not know that the overwhelming number of victims were Jews.”

Morrison said that even if the Orthodox rabbinical organizations start boycotting the museum, it likely would not make much difference in terms of attendance.

Some 80 percent of the 2 million people who visit the federal institution each year are not Jewish, she said.

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