(JTA) — The board of New York’s Center for Jewish History is defending its recently installed executive director over calls from right-wing groups for his dismissal.
A campaign against David Myers, formerly a prominent academic at UCLA, centers on his urging Israel to end its occupation in the West Bank.
The critics say his service on the international board of the left-wing New Israel Fund and as a member of the advisory council of J Street, the liberal American Jewish Middle East policy group, disqualifies him from the leadership of a Jewish organization.
The attack against Myers began in earnest earlier this month with an op-ed written by Ronn Torossian and Hank Sheinkopf, both public relations executives with clients in Israel, and George Birnbaum, a former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The piece was published on Arutz-7 and other right-wing Jewish news websites.
Two small advocacy groups, JCCWatch.org and the California-based Israel Group, recently joined the attack. The latter has organized an email campaign against Myers.
But the Center for Jewish History said in a statement approved last week and first reported in the Forward that Myers “enjoys the full and unwavering support of the board and staff.”
The board’s statement noted receiving “a stream of vituperative emails” demanding that Myers be dismissed.
Myers, the board said, “is a distinguished scholar who brings enormous energy, intellect and executive talent to the task” of leading the center.
The center is made up of five partner organizations: the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Yeshiva University Museum and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
According to the center’s website, “The partners’ archives comprise the world’s largest and most comprehensive archive of the modern Jewish experience outside of Israel.”
Myers served for 10 years as director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and, from 2010 to 2015 as the department chair of the university’s history department.
The critics say Myers is unqualified to run the center because he has urged Israel to end its control of the West Bank or offer citizenship to Palestinians living there. He also argued in an essay that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic.
“On one hand, I oppose the global BDS movement,” Myers wrote in a column for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. “On the other, I can’t join in the rising chorus of demonization against it.”
In their op-ed, Torossian and his co-authors wrote, “Those who endorse any form of a boycott of Israel, an end to the Jewish State and sit in positions of leadership for organizations that oppose Israel are free to hold these viewpoints. They should not hold positions of leadership in the Jewish community.”
Richard Allen, founder of the New York-based JCCWatch.org, told the Forward that he is planning a “string of protests” against the center over the Myers hiring. The Israel Group posted the names of the center’s board members on its website last week and urged its supporters to contact the center with their concerns about Myers.
Two prominent Jewish scholars — David Ellenson, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, and Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University — defended the Myers appointment in an essay for the Forward. They wrote that Myers’ views on Israel “fall well within the scholarly mainstream of Jewish life” and that he “unquestionably” supports Israel’s right to exist.
“No one is more qualified than the charismatic and learned Myers” to run the center, they wrote.
“There should be no ideological litmus test whatsoever beyond an ability to articulate, celebrate, and advance the ideals and mission of the Center itself – and this Professor Myers is uniquely qualified to do by dint of personal temperament and superb scholarship.”