Protests continue against Jewish conference featuring DeSantis
The controversy surrounding whether a Jewish museum in New York City would host an event featuring Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, appeared to die down early last month after the Museum of Jewish Heritage announced its decision: No.
But now it’s back in the news after local politicians called on the event’s new venue — Chelsea Piers — to cancel the conference, which is planned for Sunday and organized by the Tikvah Fund, a Jewish foundation that is “politically Zionist, economically free-market oriented, culturally traditional, and theologically open-minded.”
“DON’T SAY RON,” blared Monday’s front page of the Daily News. The tabloid juxtaposed an image of DeSantis, who has drawn ire from progressives over his support for a law regulating what public school teachers can say about sexual orientation, with a photo of New Yorkers celebrating Pride Month.
“Having someone like Ron DeSantis in Chelsea during Pride Month is enraging and insulting to the LGBTQ community and all New Yorkers committed to diversity and safe spaces for all,” Deborah Glick, who is Jewish and the first openly gay member of the New York Legislature, told the Daily News. Glick joined with State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Councilman Erik Bottcher in calling on the venue to nix the event.
Chelsea Piers issued a statement saying that they were “proud of our longstanding relationship with the LGBTQ+ community,” and that hosting the Jewish Leadership Conference did not imply an endorsement of the organization, but it gave no indication that they would cancel the booking.
The renewed campaign to cancel the conference is the latest twist in a story that appeared to have concluded early last month after the Museum of Jewish Heritage informed Tikvah leaders that DeSantis’ position on LGBT issues did “not align with its values of inclusivity,” according to an account that Eric Cohen, Tikvah’s chief executive, provided to the Times in early May.
The museum declined to comment at the time.
The Tikvah Fund has supported highbrow, conservative Jewish programs, including the Shalem Center, an Israeli think tank with ties to former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and two academic journals, according to eJewishPhilanthropy.
The group invited DeSantis to speak about how the “Florida model” has led to a thriving Jewish community in the Sunshine State.
In addition to the pressure from local politicians and a coalition called United Against Racism and Fascism NYC, which organized an online petition, several progressive Jewish activists had also joined calls for Chelsea Piers to cancel the conference.
“TERFs and genocidal policy-makers like DeSantis will not stop their deadly crusade against trans and queer people,” Sophie Ellman-Golan, a strategist for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, wrote on Twitter, using a term for anti-trans feminists. Calling the venue “and telling them to cancel this event is quite literally the least any of us can do to fight back,” she added.
If the conference goes ahead as planned, guests who pay $500 to $1,000 for tickets will hear DeSantis speak alongside Mike Pompeo, secretary of state under President Donald Trump, former Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, and former New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss, who now writes critically about liberal ideas on Substack, and Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik, a prominent Orthodox leader who delivered the invocation at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Florida.
DeSantis has drawn fire for signing the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill in March that bans kindergarten through third grade teachers from discussing “sexual orientation or gender identity” that is not “age-appropriate” for students. It allows parents to sue school districts that violate the policy, leading to concerns that it will have a chilling effect on classroom instruction.
Florida has taken other measures viewed as hostile to LGBT residents, including banning state Medicaid from paying for gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people. He has also seemed to revel in the culture wars, canceling funds for a Tampa Bay Rays practice stadium after the team spoke out against gun violence and threatening the Special Olympics with a nearly $30 million fine for barring unvaccinated athletes. The organization eventually rescinded the mandate.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at a Friday press conference. “It’s a good place to be.”