December 21, 2006
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council distances itself from Prager
Anti-Quran stance 'antithetical to the mission'
Conservative commentator Dennis Prager, a member of the Council that oversees the Holocaust Museum on Washington's Mall and the nation's chief academic center for Holocaust study, ignited a firestorm of criticism when he wrote that Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat about to become the first Muslim member of Congress, should not be allowed to be sworn in on a Quran.
Allowing congressional oaths on a Quran, Prager wrote, "undermines American civilization." If you are incapable of taking an oath on (the Bible), don't serve in Congress."
Prager was slammed by groups as diverse as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Anti-Defamation League both for his lack of tolerance for Muslims and for his inaccuracy; House members are sworn in by the Speaker, without any holy books, although many use Bibles at private photo-op ceremonies after being sworn in.
Last week, former New York Mayor Ed Koch, also a Council member, called for Prager to step down for the good of the Museum, and promised to introduce a resolution critical of Prager at this week's Council meeting.
But the showdown was averted when neither Prager nor Koch showed up. Council officials, wary of heaping new fuel on the controversy, ruled that Koch's resolution would not be taken up.
"I did not go because I was told the matter would not be put on the agenda," Koch said in an interview.
At Monday's meeting, Council chairman Fred Zeidman read a statement acknowledging the controversy but stating that the press of other issues -- including the genocide in Darfur and the situation in Iran -- made it inappropriate to bring up the Prager matter at that time.
Zeidman told members that he is "heavily involved" in the issue and expected a resolution shortly.
After the meeting, Zeidman worked with fellow executive committee members to work out a statement distancing the panel from the controversial talk show host.
The statement, issued on Friday, cited the Museum's role as a "living memorial to the victims of the Holocaust devoted to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust for the benefit of all mankind," and stated that Prager "has recently publicly expressed and disseminated certain statements which have been widely interpreted as being intolerant."
Therefore, the executive committee, "while recognizing that Dennis Prager has the right to express his personal views freely, disassociates itself from Mr. Prager's statements as being antithetical to the mission of the Museum as an institution promoting tolerance and respect for all peoples regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity."
A Museum source said he hoped Prager would get the message and resign -- but said he had no indication the controversial commentator would do so.
Members of the Council are appointed by the President, and can only be removed by the White House.