Koch: Kick Pundit off Shoah Board

By Jennifer Siegel

Published December 15, 2006, issue of December 15, 2006.
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Former New York City Mayor Edward Koch has called for Dennis Prager to resign or be removed from the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, in response to the pundit’s recent insistence that a Muslim congressman not be sworn in using a Quran.

“There is no question that Dennis Prager is a bigot who ought to be repudiated even by his closest supporters,” Koch said last Friday in an interview with the Forward. “His statements are a disgrace… and I will be down there calling for the council to condemn him, and, if we have the power, to remove him.”

Prager, a conservative radio talk-show host and syndicated columnist, authored a November 28 column on the Web site Townhall.com that lambasted Minnesota Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, for planning to use a Quran at his private swearing-in ceremony.

“Insofar as a member of Congress is taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned,” Prager wrote, “America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.”

Koch, like Prager, serves on the 55-member memorial council, which oversees the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The former mayor said he plans to call for Prager’s ouster at a December 18 meeting of the panel in Washington if Prager refuses to resign. A second committee member, who did not want to be named publicly, also said she was disturbed by Prager’s comments, and would likely support a call for his withdrawal.

In an e-mail to the Forward, Prager responded: “Two years ago the American Jewish Press Association awarded me its Prize for Excellence in Commentary. Did they miss something that Ed Koch caught? Or does he smear people he differs with as part of his style of argumentation?”

The Holocaust Memorial Council includes a number of prominent Jews, including Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress. A number of members of Congress also serve on the panel, including Reps. Eric Cantor, Tom Lantos and Henry Waxman, as well as Senators Norm Coleman, Russell Feingold and Frank Lautenberg.

Memorial Council Chairman Fred Zeidman, a prominent Houston Republican who is politically close to President Bush, did not directly respond to the Forward’s request for comment. A spokesperson for the Holocaust museum sent an e-mailed statement saying that “talk show host Dennis Prager speaks solely for himself. His statements do not reflect the position of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose board is not self-appointed.”

By press time, requests for comment had not been returned from the office of President Bush, who appointed Prager to the council, or from several prominent council members, including Wiesel and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld.

Waxman, a California Democrat, told the Forward that Prager’s comments were “inappropriate, incorrect and reflect a lack of the qualities of tolerance and civility and respect for other people’s religion.” The lawmaker, who said he had never used a Bible at his own swearing-in ceremonies, called on Prager to apologize. Waxman said he had not decided what action he would take if Prager refuses to issue an apology.

Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, criticized the substance of Prager’s remarks while defending the pundit’s continued involvement with the memorial council.

“I fully support Keith Ellison’s right to use the Quran for the ceremonial swearing-in,” Coleman wrote in a statement e-mailed to the Forward. “I disagree with Dennis’ stance on this issue. However, I support his right to express his beliefs.…The Holocaust Museum stands as a testament to tolerance. That tolerance, both religious and political, would be undermined by Prager’s ouster.”

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