U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council distances itself from Prager
Leaders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council,
ensnared in a raging controversy over one of its
members, this week moved to distance themselves from the cause of the furor.
Conservative commentator Dennis Prager, a member
of the Council that oversees the Holocaust Museum
on Washington’s Mall and the nation’s chief
academic center for Holocaust study, ignited a
firestorm of criticism when he wrote that Keith
Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat about to become the
first Muslim member of Congress, should not be
allowed to be sworn in on a Quran.
Allowing congressional oaths on a Quran, Prager
wrote, “undermines American civilization.” If you
are incapable of taking an oath on (the Bible), don’t serve in Congress.”
Prager was slammed by groups as diverse as the
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and
the Anti-Defamation League both for his lack of
tolerance for Muslims and for his inaccuracy;
House members are sworn in by the Speaker,
without any holy books, although many use Bibles
at private photo-op ceremonies after being sworn in.
Last week, former New York Mayor Ed Koch, also a
Council member, called for Prager to step down
for the good of the Museum, and promised to
introduce a resolution critical of Prager at this week’s Council meeting.
But the showdown was averted when neither Prager
nor Koch showed up. Council officials, wary of
heaping new fuel on the controversy, ruled that
Koch’s resolution would not be taken up.
“I did not go because I was told the matter would
not be put on the agenda,” Koch said in an interview.
At Monday’s meeting, Council chairman Fred
Zeidman read a statement acknowledging the
controversy but stating that the press of other
issues — including the genocide in Darfur and
the situation in Iran — made it inappropriate to
bring up the Prager matter at that time.
Zeidman told members that he is “heavily
involved” in the issue and expected a resolution shortly.
After the meeting, Zeidman worked with fellow
executive committee members to work out a
statement distancing the panel from the controversial talk show host.
The statement, issued on Friday, cited the
Museum’s role as a “living memorial to the
victims of the Holocaust devoted to teaching the
lessons of the Holocaust for the benefit of all
mankind,” and stated that Prager “has recently
publicly expressed and disseminated certain
statements which have been widely interpreted as being intolerant.”
Therefore, the executive committee, “while
recognizing that Dennis Prager has the right to
express his personal views freely, disassociates
itself from Mr. Prager’s statements as being
antithetical to the mission of the Museum as an
institution promoting tolerance and respect for
all peoples regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.”
A Museum source said he hoped Prager would get
the message and resign — but said he had no
indication the controversial commentator would do so.
Members of the Council are appointed by the
President, and can only be removed by the White House.