A Jewish New York City council member pulled her $5,000 contribution from the Museum of Jewish Heritage on Monday over its alleged ban of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, as mainstream Jewish institutions increasingly get pulled into US culture wars and politics.
“I did something I would’ve never imagined doing in my wildest dreams: I’ve pulled funding from a museum that educates the world about the atrocities of the Holocaust,” Republican New York City Council Member Inna Vernikov said in an open letter to the museum’s donors.
She said the museum had “unabashedly politicized a sacred part of our history.”
Two prominent Jewish conservatives, Elliot Abrams and Eric Cohen, said on Thursday that New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, a Holocaust memorial museum, refused to host an event if DeSantis was invited.
The museum denied the allegations, saying, “No one was banned or canceled,” and that the museum had not signed a contract with Cohen’s Tikva fund, a conservative think tank.
Vernikov lashed the museum over the alleged snub, saying the museum “used the Holocaust as a political tool to promote their leftwing agenda.”
“It greatly saddens me to see this museum’s leadership act so cowardly. The Holocaust should never be politicized,” she said, calling on other donors to pull funding from the museum.
— Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (@InnaVernikov) May 9, 2022
She said she withdrew the contribution from $700,000 allocated to her annually in discretionary funding as a city council member.
She called DeSantis “a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people.”
“When will the left-wing Jews in leadership realize that by pandering, we are only harming ourselves?” she said.
Vernikov and DeSantis are both Republicans who identify with former US president Donald Trump, and are politically at odds with most US Jews, but also actively oppose antisemitism and support Israel. American Jews are mostly Democrats, but most Orthodox Jews in the US are Republican-affiliated, and appear to be increasingly conservative politically.
Vernikov was born in Ukraine, grew up in Brooklyn, and frequently speaks out against antisemitism and in support of Jewish and Israeli causes.
She is a rare Trump-aligned Republican in New York City politics and met with the former president in March. She unseated a Democrat to win her seat in a surprise victory in 2021 in an area with a significant Jewish population.
She is one of five Republicans in the 51-member city council, representing the city’s 48th Council District in southern Brooklyn, and serves as the council’s minority whip.
DeSantis is a divisive and well-known figure in US politics, also aligned with Trump, and is supporting controversial conservative legislation in Florida limiting abortion and LGBTQ education, including the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.
He has visited Israel as governor, passed legislation against antisemitism and has called Florida “the most Israel-friendly state in the country.”
DeSantis has also come under fire for his handling of Nazi protests in his state, including on Monday, when protesters waved swastika flags outside Disney World. DeSantis has been feuding with the amusement park after Disney objected to the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
Other mainstream US Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, have found themselves embroiled in political polarization, and Democrats and Republicans have increasingly charged the other party with tolerating antisemitism.
JTA contributed to this report.