Sometime in the next few years, the third floor of the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park City, which focuses on Israel and other post-Shoah facets of Jewish life, will include artifacts on such unsavory topics as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Leo Frank lynching, and the Alfred Dreyfus trial.
They will be part of the permanent exhibition at a new Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism that the museum announced this week.
Abraham Foxman, who retired last year as national director of the Anti-Defamation League, will serve as director of the center, which has started a fund-raising campaign and an effort to collect artifacts.
The center, which sometime this spring will start to offer lectures and workshops on anti-Semitism, will work with existing institutions like the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Charles Small’s Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, which deal will facets of anti-Semitism, Foxman told The Jewish Week.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel,” he said — the center will concentrate on explaining the roots of anti-Semitism, “starting with the Crucifixion.” That’s a reference to the two-millennia-old deicide charge that has fueled religious anti-Semitism through the centuries. “Hatred has long roots.”
While the museum hosts thousands of students every year, the center’s focus will be on adults, Foxman said.
Other Jewish institutions, including Jewish museums around the world, “tell the world what happened” to Jews at the hands of non-Jews, Foxman said. “They don’t tell why it happened.” Some museums bring out items related to anti-Semitism for display in temporary exhibits. “We want to give them a permanent home.”
The center is a response to the worldwide increase in anti-Semitism over the last few decades, said Bruce Ratner, chair of the Museum.
“Twenty years ago, most of us thought anti-Semitism was on the downswing. To our shock and amazement, we see that it’s on the upswing. The scourge is still with us,” Ratner said, pointing to anti-Semitism in Europe, the Middle East, and college campuses in the United States.
He and Foxman said it is too early to discuss details about the center’s size or contents.
News of the anti-Semitism center comes as the museum faces struggles over its balance sheet and attendance.
Foxman said the center was not prompted by any specific event, such as recent incidents of Muslim-supported anti-Semitism, or the intolerance of many supporters of Donald Trump during this year’s race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Trump’s campaign, which has not included any specifically anti-Semitic elements, has earned the support of people like neo-Nazi David Duke, prompting fears of growing intolerance in this country, which historically has threatened Jews and other minorities.
While plans for the center began “way before Trump,” Foxman said, “Trump adds some resonance. We’re finding a breakdown in civility.”
Foxman said his work at the center, unlike at the ADL, will remain at the scholarly and historical level. “We’ll leave advocacy to the others.”