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Houston Businessman Touted As Next Chair of Holocaust Council

February 15, 2002
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President Bush seems to have settled on a new chairman for the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

Fred Zeidman, the prospective council head, is an old friend of the president and an outsider on Holocaust issues. Interestingly enough, Jewish leaders have only good things to say about him.

The president and director of an industrial service company in Houston, Zeidman, 55, holds leadership positions in the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston and the American Jewish Committee.

Sources say Bush already has made his decision, but there has been no official announcement of the new chair or other council appointees. An announcement could be made in coming weeks, sources say.

It’s unlikely that any of the current council members whose terms are now expiring will be asked to stay on, as Bush has shown a willingness to keep previous administrations’ appointees only in rare situations.

Zeidman’s leadership and fundraising skills, as well as his close personal relationship with Bush, put him in good stead with those familiar with the council.

No one seems concerned that Zeidman is not a Holocaust scholar and has not been very involved in Holocaust issues. He likely would be surrounded by Holocaust scholars on the council, which runs the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Jewish leaders say scholarship is less necessary for the council chair than good administrative skills and pragmatism.

Ruth Mandel, vice chair of the council, said the chairman must be someone who can play a leadership role, understand the workings of a complicated board and have good political skills.

Zeidman is an extremely committed and knowledgeable Jewish leader, according to Menachem Rosensaft, a council member.

“His commitment and perspective is precisely what the museum needs,” he said.

Zeidman would be the first chair from the post-Holocaust generation, which would be ideal in preparing the museum for the challenges of the 21st century, Rosensaft said.

The next five to 10 years are an important transition period, as the impact of aging Holocaust survivors will lessen, according to Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. The new chair must find a way to preserve survivors’ memory, he said.

Zeidman is up to the challenge, Foxman believes, and if appointed would do “a very good job” in moving the museum forward.

The council has had some troubles in recent years, especially as a crisis in confidence developed over the leadership of chairman Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg. A longtime council member, Greenberg is an Orthodox rabbi well known in the Jewish community for his writings on the Holocaust.

Greenberg was dogged by controversy after it was disclosed that he had sent a letter on museum stationery in December 2000 asking President Clinton to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Some council members called for Greenberg’s resignation, but a majority ultimately stuck by him.

Greenberg also found himself in hot water for a November 2000 speech at the United Jewish Communities’ General Assembly, which some considered unduly critical of Israel’s response to Palestinian attacks.

Greenberg and his supporters responded that his comments were taken out of context and that he was the victim of an ideological vendetta.

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