500 scholars have signed a petition defending a former UCLA historian who runs the Center for Jewish History

Historians in the News
tags: Israel



Mark Oppenheimer, a contributing writer to Opinion, is the host of the podcast Unorthodox.

Related Link The Petition

It might seem an insignificant dispute, a tiny ship in a small bottle floating on a far-off sea. Who cares if a former UCLA history professor keeps his job as president of the Center for Jewish History in New York City? But the fight over David N. Myers, who was tapped to head the Center in June, and whom right-wing adversaries are now trying to get fired, is about America, and Jews, and intellectual freedom. And it’s about the intrusion of politics and money into the world of scholarship.

The Center for Jewish History houses five scholarly organizations, including the American Jewish Historical Society. Among scholars, the appointment of the UCLA historian was the opposite of controversial. Brandeis University historian Jonathan D. Sarna called Myers “the very embodiment of what the center should be.” But this week, an opinion piece appeared in three politically conservative Jewish publications, assailing Myers as an extremist who, according to one of the headlines, “must be fired for radical viewpoints.”

The short piece — appearing on the websites of the Jewish Pressthe Algemeiner and the Israeli network Arutz Sheva — carries three bylines: Ronn Torossian, Hank Sheinkopf and George Birnbaum. It attacks Myers for serving on the board of the liberal New Israel Fund; for having helped raise money online for If Not Now, which opposes the occupation of the West Bank; and for advising J Street, a lobby that supports a two-state solution....

Torossian, Sheinkopf and Birnbaum are not scholars. A man Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg once called “the most disreputable flack in New York,” Torossian has done public relations for rapper Lil’ Kim and the late televangelist Paul Crouch. He’s the PR man of choice for (in Goldberg’s words) the “lunatic fringe” of Israeli politics (but also, Torossian pointed out, for mayors of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv). Sheinkopf does PR for companies including Home Depot and runs political campaigns, mostly for Democrats, mostly in New York. Birnbaum, a former chief of staff for Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, advised the presidential campaign of Ben Carson....

Nearly 500 Jewish scholars, rabbis and writers, including Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt — and, I should add, me — signed a petition defending Myers; it was posted online Thursday....




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