BY JAMES FARRELL
After Queens elected officials rebuked the Queens Museum for cancelling an event commemorating the state of Israel’s 70th anniversary, the institution affirmed that they had reconsidered and will be holding the event after all.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Danon was organizing the event, which was supposed to be a historic recreation of the 1947 vote that established the state of Israel. It was scheduled to take place on Nov. 29, and the location was significant: the Queens Museum occupies the same building that once housed the U.N. hall where the original agreement was signed 70 years ago.
But according to Danon, Queens Museum Executive Director Laura Raicovich contacted him on Aug. 14 to announce that the event had been cancelled. She cited a decision by the museum’s executive board not to hold a “political event” as outlined in the museum’s policies, Danon said.
“We will not accept this blatant discrimination against the State of Israel and we will not let this decision stand,” Danon said. “Celebrating the momentous decision of the U.N. recognizing the right to a Jewish state in our homeland is not a political event, but rather an expression of the historical and legal rights of our people.”
Since then, the museum has told Danon it had reconsidered.
“We welcome this step by the Museum to rectify their earlier unfortunate decision,” Danon said. “Any attempt to discriminate against Israel is completely unacceptable and we will continue to fight against such injustices. We look forward to proudly celebrating this historic UN decision.”
Danon claims that a museum official had confirmed the event as recently as June, telling the ambassador that he was “looking forward to a wonderful and meaningful event in its natural setting.”
After the event became publicized, Danon alleged, the same official contacted him to express concern about feedback from “Palestinian friends of the museum.”
On Aug. 14, Raicovich notified Danon that the Queens Museum’s board of trustees decided it would not host the event.
That prompted an angry response from Danon, who alleged that Raicovich has ties to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, which organizes international political action against Israel. He notes that Raicovich co-edited a book titled “Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production,” which describes “boycott and divestment” as “essential tools for activists around the globe.”
“It is unacceptable for BDS activists to single out Israel and ban our event,” Danon continued. “I call on the board of directors of the Queens Museum to dismiss Ms. Raicovich from her position immediately and honor their commitment to hold this important event.”
The museum’s change of heart on Thursday comes after a flood of outrage from Queens and New York City leaders, some of whom called for Raicovich’s resignation.
Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) were quick to issue a joint statement siding with Danon. In it, they label the initial decision as “anti-Semitic” and a “violation of law.”
“We are deeply troubled that the museum’s executive director and president, Laura Raicovich, let her own personal support for the BDS movement infect her decision making in this matter,” the lawmakers said. “The celebration of the vote establishing the state of Israel is a recognition of a historic turning point at the site of the Queens Museum and is profoundly meaningful to New York’s Jewish community. She has abused the trust placed in her by the people of the City of New York, who fund the museum as a cultural representation of Queens, the most diverse county in the United States. We call on the NYC Human Rights Commission to fully investigate this decision and take appropriate action to ensure that such discriminatory and unlawful conduct never happens again.”
The NYC Commission on Human Rights told the Queens Tribune it had not received a complaint regarding this matter.
In an interview on Wednesday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz disagreed with the Queens Museum’s initial decision and said that she was talking with the museum about overturning it. She said that in her view, “this is a historical event” with special significance in Queens.
“The vote by the U.N. is a historical fact—it’s a part of Queens’ history that we are proud of,” she said. “Clearly, I’m disappointed. I would like to see the reenactment. Hopefully, there’s still more time for discussion.”
Katz also offered Queens Borough Hall as an alternative space for the venue.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) also sent a letter to the Queens Museum on Wednesday, urging it to host the event.
“As a proud, Queens elected official and strong supporter of the state of Israel and of the museum, I am very disappointed in this decision,” she said. “Do not deny those who want to remember and celebrate this important moment in history. Countless people throughout the borough and the city are proud of their Israeli heritage, and I implore you and the museum to not diminish that pride, but instead celebrate it.”
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) expressed initial shock over the incident.
“The decision by the Queens Museum is puzzling and it’s bizarre that such an outstanding facility in our borough would pull the plug on a project to celebrate not just the establishment of Israel, but a key piece of Queens history,” she said.
“Personally, I do not see how this project is ‘political.’ How is commemorating a major world event that took place in Queens and the U.N.’s establishment of one of America’s closest allies political? The museum and Israeli mission already agreed to this reenactment of the U.N. vote and planning for it was well underway before the museum backtracked. The museum should reverse its decision and allow the event to take place as scheduled.”
Zak Pyzer, director of print and online media for the Consulate General of Israel in New York, expressed a more hopeful tone, foreshadowing the museum’s ultimate reversal.
“The Consulate General of Israel in New York is hopeful that the Queens Museum will host the reenactment of the United Nations vote on the partition plan,” he said. “Marking the occasion in the museum simply respects the historical rather than the political significance of the event.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also weighed in, evoking imagery from the controversial events that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend, where white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups marched and had violent spats with counter protestors.
“This decision is a deeply unfortunate one that sends the wrong message to Jewish communities across New York City,” Stringer said. “The 1947 U.N. vote is historic, and holding this re-enactment where it actually happened matters. That’s why I believe the museum must revisit this decision and host this important event. At a time when we literally have neo-Nazis marching in American streets, when bigotry is on the rise, the Queens Museum has sent a disappointing message to New York City and the world.”
The Queens Museum did not respond to email requests for comment.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.
This story has been updated to reflect new developments.