David N. Myers: The Wrong Choice for the Center for Jewish History
When a respected and apolitical institution like the New York-based Center for Jewish History (CJH) hires an individual that some call an anti-Israel academic to be its new CEO and president, something has gone terribly wrong. UCLA Jewish studies professor David N. Myers may present a moderate façade, but — in my view — his academic and political affiliations expose his radical core.
Some in the pro-Israel community has taken notice. The Israel Group, for instance, urged opponents to write to the CJH in protest. JCCWatch and Americans for a Safe Israel announced plans for an October 18 street protest outside the CJH.
Predictably, the academic world has rallied around Myers. Jewish studies scholars by the hundreds signed a petition supporting him. Jonathan D. Sarna and David Ellenson of Brandeis University lauded Myers as the “very model of an engaged and responsible scholar,” even calling him “the embodiment of the center.” Speaking to this author, Sarna stressed the need to make distinctions “between enemies and critics of Israel,” saying of Myers, “there are real enemies, but he’s not one of them.”
But if Myers is not an enemy of Israel, one wonders who is. He serves on the board of the New Israel Fund, the advisory council for J Street, and has participated in an If Not Now fundraising drive. It should be noted that alleged evidence of Myers’ past association with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has been adamantly denied by JVP; the group claims that Myers never had an official affiliation with them. Yet, as Daniel Greenfield of the Horowitz Center wrote, many believe that “there is hardly an organization in the anti-Israel network where Myers hasn’t left his fingerprints.”
As for BDS, while Myers said he was “mostly” opposed to any boycotts of Israel, he was open to a “limited boycott” of “Israel’s settlements and commercial activity in the West Bank” — unless Jerusalem complied with Obama administration diktats.
Myers fantasizes that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank will resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict (ignoring the calamity of Israel’s withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza). No withdrawal would mean apartheid: “If Israel is not able to extricate itself from the West Bank,” he warned in 2009, it must “maintain a two-tiered system — two regimes of legal status for Jews and Arabs — which in other contexts, went by the name of apartheid.”
Likewise, Myers uses the Arabic term nakba (catastrophe) when describing Israel’s founding.
Myers has also opposed some efforts to combat campus antisemitism. He signed a 2012 petition to the University of California president protesting a UC Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion report about the hostile campus climate for Jewish students on campus. In 2015, Myers recommended against the University of California system adopting the State Department’s definition of antisemitism because the system should “not focus largely on anti-Semitism alone.” He has strongly opposed the activity of outside organizations, such as AMCHA Initiative and Campus Watch; the groups say that they are simply calling attention to academic antisemitism.
In 2002, Myers bizarrely wrote that “The number of voices tinged with hatred of Jews is small … compared to the amount of anti-Muslim or anti-Arab sentiment on campus and beyond.” In 2010, Myers opposed the Orange County District Attorney filing charges against the Muslim Student Association for disrupting a lecture by then-Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, at UC-Irvine.
Some in the UCLA community have a very poor regard for him. A UCLA alumnus claimed: “You have no idea how many kids he has turned off to Israel and how he espoused his anti-Israel rhetoric at any opportunity. Israel is to blame for everything according to him and he’s dangerous because of his self-proclaimed ‘love’ for the Jewish state.”
A fellow UCLA professor concluded that the “damage that Myers caused to Jewish life at UCLA will take many years to erase. … Myers simply does not believe that Israel plays, or should play a central role in Jewish identity. This will be reflected in the character of Jewish history that will be filtered under his leadership [at CJH].”
Fulfilling CJH’s mission to illuminate Jewish “history, culture, and heritage” requires leadership with the vision and courage to support Israel’s struggles in spite of academic pieties that, if enacted, could destroy Israel as a Jewish state. David Myers is a trojan horse for the furies that seek to do just that.