What Happened When a Conservative Jewish Group Invited DeSantis to Speak
Governor Ron DeSantis speaks in Orlando on February 24, 2022. (Scott McIntyre/The New York Times)
NEW YORK -- The Tikvah Fund, a conservative Jewish organization, was poised to host a conference at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York in June when months of planning were suddenly dashed by the last-minute addition of a speaker once undisputed: the Republican Governor of Florida.
The Fund had invited Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss the vibrancy of Jewish life in Florida, a topic the Fund wrote about in the April issue of its magazine, a month after DeSantis signed legislation restricting instruction and discussion about sexual orientation and gender prohibits identity in the first grades of elementary school. Opponents have dubbed the law the "Don't Say Gay" law.
Tikvah signed a contract and sent it to the museum before DeSantis was included in the lineup; Trouble began when the group updated its program to include the governor.
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"Thank you for sharing this with me," said an email to the fund from Trudy Chan, a museum staffer. Chan noted that providing security for the governor was not an issue, but added, "We would need to determine if there were any potential conflicts with your invited speakers. Please be ready.”
The next day, Chan asked the fund to "pause" his $11,500 deposit and asked to speak to his executives, according to emails. In subsequent phone calls, Tikvah CEO Eric Cohen was told that an event featuring DeSantis could not be held at the museum, which bills itself as a "living memorial to the Holocaust," because "Don't Say Gay" Bill disagrees consistent with its values of inclusivity, Cohen told the New York Times.
The museum does not allow political speakers or events at its museum, Cohen said, despite recent events involving Democratic politicians such as New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
"The museum indicated that Tikvah wanted to host a partisan event," Cohen said. “Our event does not endorse any candidate and does not serve any political party. It's all about ideas, just like every previous conference we've held at the museum.”
The museum's CEO, Jack Kliger, declined several interview requests for this article, but the museum has explained its actions in a series of public statements, expressing concerns about the political nature of the event and the level of security that the governor may need . A spokesman for the Museum of Jewish Heritage stressed that the museum had nothing to do with the event other than discussing renting its premises to the Tikvah Fund.
Politics has become an increasing challenge for Jewish institutions in recent years, as Americans are divided over issues such as LGBTQ politics and the results of the 2020 presidential election. New York City is no exception. Neighborhoods with large populations of Reform Jews voted decisively for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, while those with many ultra-Orthodox Jews voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.
This has put institutions like the Museum of Jewish Heritage in a difficult position.
"As American domestic politics becomes more polarized and people increasingly see conservatives as not just different but fundamentally anti-democratic or illiberal or authoritarian or racist, it's really, really difficult to tie this big tent together," said Peter Beinart, an author and editor for Jewish Currents, a progressive magazine who also writes for The Times.
The story goes on
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