It appears that the campaign to oust David Myers from his new position as president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History has backfired, at least for now. I hope there is a lesson in that.
Myers, a respected historian at UCLA, was targeted by two public relations operatives in New York City, where the center is located, shortly after assuming his new post this month. His detractors — Ronn Torossian and Hank Sheinkopf — placed an opinion piece in a few friendly media outlets asserting that Myers should be fired because of his support for left-wing Israel advocacy groups such as IfNotNow, New Israel Fund and J Street.
"He's an enemy of the Jewish state," Sheinkopf told my colleague Josh Nathan-Kazis.
I don't know Myers well, but the utter absurdity of that charge should be evident to anyone. It was certainly evident to the many hundreds of scholars here and in Israel who came to Myers's defense, including decidedly mainstream academics Jonathan Sarna and Rabbi David Ellenson, who wrote in the Forward that Myers's writings "are unquestionably supportive of Israel's basic right to exist" and are "models of responsible public intellectual discourse."
It's Sarna and Ellenson's second point that is most important. If Torossian and Sheinkopf wanted to debate the merits of Myers's appointment — and remember, the Center is a scholarly institution, not an Israel advocacy group — then they should have done it responsibly and intellectually, not as a smear campaign of innuendo and false accusations laced with toxic meanness.
They alone don't get to decide the leadership of communal institutions. As Mark Oppenheimer wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "In saying which Jews deserve to work in the community, Torossian and the others are constricting possibilities for Jewish life — by using threats to try to get a man fired."
At a basic level, this outrageous tactic should be forcefully countered, whenever it occurs, from the right or the left. And, apparently, in this case, it has been. Though Torossian claims that he will continue to target donors of the Center, Myers has retained the support of his board and a wide array of thought leaders. He is, he told me, "gratified by the response of so many of my colleagues, here and in Israel."
The system worked. This time.