The emails started early in the morning one Wednesday in September. The first one pinged into David Myers’s inbox at 7 a.m.
“You Can [sic] always resign before protests start and donors are targeted,” the September 6 email read. “Do you want this to be your legacy? I know a tad about pr and shaping issues.”
The sender was Ronn Torossian, the high-powered public relations executive who, days earlier, had launched a very public effort to get Myers, a prominent academic, fired from his new position leading the Center for Jewish History over his ties to liberal groups.
“Mr. Myers you can still resign and not allow this to become your legacy,” Torossian wrote at 2 p.m. that day. “This issue will define your career.”
Over the next two months, Torossian sent Myers more than 70 emails. While roughly half were blind carbon copied links to stories and columns related to his campaign against CJH, the rest were either personal emails to Myers or emails to small groups that included Myers.
All told, the body of emails obtained by the Forward reveal a hidden campaign of email harassment that operated alongside the public op-eds, rallies and radio spots against the CJH.
“It’s never pleasant to receive a large batch of emails calling on you to resign lest your reputation be damaged,” Myers told the Forward. “My hope is that this practice of bullying and intimidation not be visited upon people in the future.”
Asked about the barrage of emails he sent to Myers, Torossian responded with a string of emails to the Forward asking, in part, why Myers had not blocked messages from him.
“Does myers [sic] ‘reply’ button not work?” Torossian wrote. “Or does his ‘block’ function not work? Hope he does resign!”
Torossian later suggested that Myers’s help raising money for the liberal Jewish activist group IfNotNow undermined his claim that he had felt bullied.
“David Myers, who praises [IfNowNow], which hosts aggressive sit-ins of Jewish organizations and refuses dialogue, feels bullied because of private emails?” Torossian wrote. “Rather than block emails, or ask one to stop emailing them, he leaks them to the media as his complaint about bullying? Seems like a PR move by a man desperate to save his job.”
In a final email to the Forward, Torossian said that his goal was to keep supporters of boycotts of Israel from holding positions of Jewish communal leadership. (Myers opposes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement but has written that he could potentially support a partial boycott of settlement goods.)
Torossian’s campaign against Myers is the latest in a wave of efforts by Torossian and others to push liberals, and particularly supporters of the left-wing New Israel Fund, outside of the Jewish communal consensus. Myers is a member of NIF’s board. Previous campaigns have targeted former UJA-Federation of New York president Alisa Doctoroff, who has donated to NIF, and Rabbi Gordon Tucker, a prominent Conservative leader who made a donation to NIF through his White Plains, New York, synagogues’s rabbinic discretionary fund.
The campaign to fire Myers began in early September with an op-ed co-written by Torossian, public relations operative Hank Sheinkopf and George Birnbaum, a former chief of staff to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Torossian has continued his efforts against Myers with a series of op-eds on right-wing Jewish news sites, including Arutz Sheva and the Algemeiner.
A network of little-known Jewish advocacy groups took up the campaign, holding a series of protests outside the CJH’s building on 16th Street in Manhattan.
CJH’s board has stood by Myers, though the board of the American Jewish Historical Society, a constituent of the CJH, canceled a play reading and a panel under pressure from Torossian.
Amid this public campaign, Torossian has kept up a steady private campaign of emails to Myers.
“Starting to crack,” Torossian wrote to Myers on September 7 in his third email of that day. “Won’t take long. Resign.”
“All of it. Will be your defining issue,” Torossian wrote September 18. “And you wont [sic] last at CJH. Ads start soon. Denounce NIF?”
“More to come,” he wrote at 10 p.m. that evening. “Time to resign.”
In mid-October, Torossian began to boast in his emails to Myers that he had hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on a campaign to damage Myers and the CJH. “We will spend relentlessly to target your donors to stop giving,” he wrote on October 10. “Your entire career will be defined by this battle.”
“We have six figures ready to spend with more at our access to get you out,” Torossian wrote on October 22.
It’s not clear what funds Torossian was referring to, or where they came from. He has said that he is not being paid for his work against Myers and the CJH.
“Time to quit,” Torossian wrote on October 12. “Save yourself the Shame of being fired.”
Torossian’s email habits have made the news before. In 2008, Gawker reported that he had sent a series of vulgar emails to a former employee with whom he was in a legal battle.
Myers has made little public comment since Torossian’s campaign began. In an interview with the Forward, he characterized the campaign as a “learning experience.”
“It’s been a particularly unique welcome to the Jewish community in New York,” said Myers, who has lived in Los Angeles and continues to teach at UCLA. “I’ve discovered the intensity of opinion in the New York Jewish community and the range of expression.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.