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Gov. DeSantis was unwelcome at Museum of Jewish Heritage, WSJ op-ed says

The organizers of the Jewish Leadership Conference say they were told to disinvite Florida's governor or find a new spot for their event.
Credit: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
FILE: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Miami.

NEW YORK — The co-chairs of the annual Jewish Leadership Conference are moving the June 12 event to a different venue after they said New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage told them Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is slated to speak, did not “align with the museum’s values and its message of inclusivity.”

In a Wall Street Journal commentary, the organizers explained museum staff told them to disinvite DeSantis or be booted out.

"...as the saying goes, we got canceled," event co-chairs Elliott Abrams and Eric Cohen wrote.

They say the CEO told them the museum just doesn't get involved with politics. But, as they write in their commentary, events at the museum have previously featured a bunch of Democrats from then-congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and then-Mayor Bill de Blasio. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also been hosted there, Abrams and Cohen said.

"In the name of fighting hate, the museum decided that the millions of Floridians who support Gov. DeSantis—including many Jews—are so hateful that they don’t even merit a voice in the great American conversation," they wrote in the WSJ. " A museum of tolerance has become intolerant."

10 Tampa Bay reached out to the museum for a comment, to which leaders at the museum responded by stating:

"The Wall Street Journal opinion piece, 'Persona Non-Grata at a Holocaust Memorial', written by the leadership at The Tikvah Fund, contains many factual inaccuracies, including fictionalized quotes. No one was banned or canceled. The fact is that no contract with the Tikvah Fund was ever signed for this rental event to be held at the Museum and no deposit was ever made," the museum wrote.

The museum described the situation as not being a free speech or censorship issue, arguing that the op-ed writers were trying to create a fight where none existed.

"This was simply a contractual and logistical decision," the museum wrote. "We welcome Governor DeSantis and elected officials from across the spectrum to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust for a tour of our new exhibition, The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do, when it opens this summer.”

While the museum said he can visit, it still seems clear from the statement that the governor won't be speaking there anytime soon. DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw, in an email, described the original op-ed as courageous, saying it speaks for itself.

"I would only add the comment that Governor DeSantis has always been a steadfast friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel," Pushaw said. "As Mr. Abrams and Mr. Cohen write in WSJ, 'A remarkable Jewish renaissance is underway in Florida' under Governor DeSantis’ leadership."

"We hope that this is all a misunderstanding, and the museum leadership will rectify the situation because a Holocaust memorial should never be politicized," Pushaw added.

Florida's governor has previously spoken about his initiatives to support the Jewish community, including his signing of two laws in 2021 that were aimed at expanding religious practices in state institutions. Last year, he showed support for Israel while pushing against Ben & Jerry's announcement about stopping the sale of ice cream on the West Bank. And, back in 2019, the governor and members of the Florida Cabinet held a ceremonial meeting inside the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, as he worked to exchange best practices on mutual interests between Florida and Israel.

The 2021 budget, signed by the governor, included $4 million to fund extra security for Jewish day schools, along with more than $12 million in funding for various Jewish institutions, his office said.

Still, political opponents have questioned the governor's actions. Earlier this year, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, one of the Democrats hoping to win the nomination and run against DeSantis for governor this fall, criticized DeSantis for not doing more to condemn Nazi demonstrations in Florida. At the time, opponents also slammed Pushaw for a since-deleted tweet in which she pondered whether the demonstrators were actually Nazis, and suggested law enforcement should investigate to determine if they were instead plants involved in a political stunt like the individuals seen at an event in Charlottesville.

For his part, DeSantis had called the Florida Nazi demonstrators "jack****s," promised they would be held accountable by law enforcement and vowed to sign the strongest antisemitism bill in the United States.

This past April, DeSantis awarded the governor's medal of freedom to the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor: Benjamin Ferencz.

"The Jewish Leadership Conference won’t be canceled, and the governor of the state with America’s third-largest Jewish population will speak," Abrams and Cohen wrote in the WSJ. "We will hold our event as planned, at a different, secular venue. But it is sad to see that the misguided leadership of a Jewish museum won’t allow alternative ideas a seat at the Jewish table."