December 11, 2006
Ed Koch wants Prager out—will ask him to resign from Holocaust Memorial Council next week
(WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 12) The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council faces
continuing questions over recent statements by
one of its members, local commentator and writer Dennis Prager.
But the panel, which oversees the Holocaust Museum on Washington's Mall, has no answers, since it had no role in appointing Prager and no way of removing him. Prager was appointed to the Council in September, but has not attended any meetings since it has not met since then, and has not been appointed to any committees.
Prager generated protests from across the political spectrum when he wrote that Keith Ellison, elected to the U.S. House on November 7, shouldn't be allowed to take the oath of office on a Quran.
In January Ellison will become the first Moslem in Congress; although members do not get sworn in on any holy book, he has said he would bring a Quran to the private ceremony that many members use as a swearing-in photo op.
That offended the conservative Prager, who wrote that allowing congressional oaths on a Quran "undermines American civilization. "If you are incapable of taking an oath on (the Bible), don't serve in Congress."
A long list of Jewish leaders quickly condemned his comments, and former New York Mayor Ed Koch demanded that he quit the Council.
Koch is also a Council member, and in an interview he said he will seek Prager's resignation at the December 18 Council meeting.
"If they permit it, I will introduce a motion to condemn him," Koch said. "I am hopeful he will resign, because I think he can't do anything other than discredit the Museum with what he has said."
Koch said Prager's comments undermine the basic message the Museum was created to disseminate.
"I believe it is the duty of members of the board to spread the message that attacks on people as a result of their religion, ethnicity, race, are all to be condemned wherever we have an opportunity to raise our voices," he said.
Prager, he said, is doing just the opposite by "creating such an attack on a Muslim."
Koch -- a former member of Congress himself -- said he would have "no objection if sacred books were used" for swearing in purposes -- including the Bible or the Quran.
One Council member expressed frustration at the position Prager's comments have put the Museum in.
"We are caught in an impossible situation," this source said. "Because the controversy has gone so public, it is hurting the Museum and its mission -- but we have no control over who is on the board, we have no way of getting Prager to resign other than simply asking him to."
This source said that far from resigning, Prager has asked fellow Council members to support him.
The White House has declined to comment on the Prager controversy, and several Council members said this week that they do not believe any of their colleagues are lobbying the administration to remove him.
One of the Museum's founders said Prager was probably a poor choice for the panel.
"A pundit's job is to stir up controversy," said Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, a former Council member and Museum official. "Prager views himself as a great ethicist, as a moral voice, but on this issue he has gone off on a profoundly alienating tangent. He sure doesn't help the Council."
Berenbaum said Prager's comments suggest a "religious test for public office. And that's wrong; it goes against the whole thrust of Jewish activism in this country."
The issue is especially nettling because the Museum, caught up in several explosive controversies in its early years, has largely steered clear of public flaps under the leadership of Fred Zeidman, a Bush confidante and the current Council chair.
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