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Center For Jewish History Chief Comes Under Fierce Attack By Right-wingers

Two prominent public relations operatives are calling for the firing of the newly installed head of Manhattan’s Center for Jewish History over his links to left-wing advocacy groups that are critical of Israel and the occupation.

The operatives, Ronn Torossian and Hank Sheinkopf, published a column Tuesday condemning David Myers, the academic tapped in recent weeks to lead the Center, for his seat on the international board of the left-wing not-for-profit New Israel Fund.

The column also cited his support for the leftist Jewish protest group IfNotNow, and the fact that he once sat on the advisory council of the dovish pro-Israel group J Street.

“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,” Torossian and Sheinkopf wrote, without providing evidence that Myers actually holds those views. “They should not hold positions of leadership in the Jewish community.”

“He’s an enemy of the Jewish state,” Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant, asserted in a phone call with the Forward. “There’s not even a question here.”

The Center, which houses five leading Jewish historical groups in its downtown Manhattan building, is strongly defending Myers, who was until earlier this year a leading professor of Jewish history at UCLA.

Myers could not be reached for comment.

Prominent historian Jonathan Sarna said Myers’s views are “mainstream” and that he supports Israel’s right to exist.

The campaign against Myers is the latest in a string of efforts by Torossian, Sheinkopf and others to target Jewish communal leaders with ties to NIF. It comes amid a growing wave of similar campaigns by right-wing Jewish activists.

David N. Myers, the new president and CEO of the Center For Jewish History. Image by Scarlett Freund

Torossian, who leads the New York public relations firm 5WPR, and Sheinkopf have posted the article on a handful of right-wing Jewish news sites, including Arutz Sheva and the Algemeiner. The article also bears the byline of George Birnbaum, a Republican political consultant who has served as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff.

Both Torossian and Sheinkopf told the Forward that they had not written or placed the column on behalf of any client, and were acting on their own behalf.

“Anything to do with NIF is fair game,” Sheinkopf said. “This is not some kind of right-wing conspiracy of idiots.”

The fierce attack on Myers comes two years after Torossian called for UJA-Federation of New York to sever ties with Alisa Doctoroff, its president, over her donations to NIF. Torossian has also attacked a White Plains, New York, rabbi for donating to NIF out of his discretionary account.

Torossian’s campaign is in line with a broad attack on NIF by right-leaning Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, who say NIF funds groups that seek to hurt Israel. NIF says that it defends liberal democratic values in Israel.

In a statement, the Center said its leadership backed Myers. “The Board of the Center for Jewish History has full confidence in his ability to lead the Center in the fulfillment of its mission,” the group said in a statement.

Partner organizations were even more vigorous in their defense of Myers. The American Sephardi Federation, one of the five groups housed within the Center called Torossian and Sheinkopf’s column “obnoxious” in a Facebook post.

The American Jewish Historical Society, also housed at the Center, provided a letter from leading American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna defending Myers.

“It is unthinkable that the Center’s president should be obligated to espouse a particular view, or that there should be any ideological litmus test whatsoever beyond an ability to articulate and celebrate the ideals of the Center itself,” Sarna wrote.

Sarna also co-wrote an op-ed published Wednesday in the Forward with Brandeis Israel studies professor Rabbi David Ellenson. saying that Myers’s views are mainstream.

“The writings of David Myers indisputably fall well within the scholarly mainstream of Jewish life and they are unquestionably supportive of Israel’s basic right to exist,” they wrote.

The Center denied a claim published in separate article on Wednesday on the right-wing website Frontpage Magazine that Myers was a member of the academic advisory board of the far-left group Jewish Voice for Peace.

The Center also said that Myers is no longer active with J Street, though he remains on NIF’s international board.

Torossian and Sheinkopf’s column accuses Myers of holding “extreme viewpoints,” saying that he supports certain forms of boycotts of Israel and that he thinks “Israel should no longer exist as a Jewish state.” The source for Myers’s alleged position on boycotts of Israel is an article laying out his opposition to “most forms” of such boycotts. The source for his alleged belief that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state is an academic essay that Sarna and Ellenson say makes no such argument.

The column also criticizes Myers for characterizing himself as a “fierce critic” of Netanyahu, which the pair appear to equate with attacking Israel itself.

“Is a fierce critic of Israel an appropriate choice to head such an institution?” the column asks.

When the Center announced Myers’s appointment in June, Myers told the Forward that he valued the Center’s broad approach to Jewish history.

“What I really love about it is that through the partner organizations it represents a sweeping, what I would call catholic [rather than parochial], universal, sweeping view of Jewish history,” he said at the time. “With the treasures in the collections that it possesses, located in New York City, I think it’s poised to become a major player in Jewish cultural life in New York.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected] or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis.

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