The Progressive Jewish Alliance of Los Angeles condemned Heston's appearance at the Dec. 2 event. The actor has been an outspoken opponent of gun control laws as president of the National Rifle Association.
PJA President Patsy Ostroy charged that in the wake of shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Center and elsewhere, the invitation to Heston represented "the height of insensitivity to the victims and their families."
Similar criticism was leveled by the group Women Against Gun Violence.
Skirball President and Founder Dr. Uri Herscher, obviously nettled by the criticism, responded by saying that his institution was open to divergent views and that the event was a cultural, not political, event. In a letter to WAGV Chair Ann Reiss Lane, Herscher said that he, "personally share[s] the values that Women Against Gun Violence exists to champion." He added that, "The Skirball [does not] impose any sort of litmus test, political or ideological, on those invited to present programs." Lane said it was important to make clear what Heston, by his own choice, stood for.
Herscher noted that the reading had been proposed by Heston over a year ago, as a memorial tribute to a close Jewish friend, Dr. Louis Jolyon (Jolly) West, founder and chair of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.
After the various heated exchanges, the reading itself went off peacefully. A near-capacity crowd of 200 filled the auditorium, although some Skirball donors stayed away on principle, the Associated Press reported.