The comments hit the news like a firebomb: the director of something called the “Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect” said President Donald J. Trump’s condemnation this morning of anti-Semitism is “a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own Administration” and a “pathetic asterisk of condescension.” He claimed Trump and his staff have committed “grotesque” acts of anti-Semitism that he declined to specify. If Holocaust experts don’t accept Trump’s remarks, why should anyone?
But executive director Steven Goldstein is not a Holocaust expert, and the Anne Frank Center (a separate group independent of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House) is not a serious player in the world of Holocaust memory. Of late, it has become a sham organization that is largely a one-man shop to promote Goldstein’s aspirations to be, as he proclaims himself, a “civil rights leader.” Armed with a great organizational title; incendiary but ready-to-print quotes; and a gullible media slavishly lapping it all up, Goldstein is finding tremendous success. (He could not be reached for comment.)
But the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, by and large, isn’t a “thing.” It developed out of an institution founded by the young diarist’s father Otto Frank, and for years was a constant but minor player in the world of Holocaust education and commemoration. Eight months ago, though, it was co-opted by activists best known for their successful fight for gay marriage in New Jersey. (Both Goldstein and his deputy held their current titles at the gay group Garden State Equality.)
The center has only nine full-time employees (by contrast, the Anti-Defamation League has 300) – and that’s only if you count the self-described “actor-puppeteer-collaborator-teaching artist” who serves as their <cough> Director of Performance Education. The most recent charitable Form 990s shows their $726,000 assets to be miniscule compared to relevant Jewish and Holocaust organizations that matter: The Simon Wiesenthal Center is 67 times as large, the American Jewish Committee 175 times, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum dwarfs them at 600 times as large.
The center’s pre-Goldstein Wikipedia page was a minor affair, but three weeks ago it was thoroughly rewritten in a self-promoting way by a single editor who has contributed virtually nothing else to Wikipedia.
The group boasts very little programming beyond the dissemination of Goldstein’s sound-bites. Its Web site describes four small traveling Anne Frank exhibits whose ten stops this year include a high school in Elkhart, Indiana and a library in Sarasota. They are very proud of their touring show in which actors visit high schools and community centers playing Martin Luther King dialoguing with Anne Frank. They also plant “Anne Frank Tree Saplings” around the country.
And that’s about it. They have virtually no presence at the Holocaust conferences scheduled year-round, and they have published no significant research in the area of Holocaust studies. They are an utterly marginal organization.
But with “Anne Frank” in his title, Goldstein has been bamboozling journalists into thinking he’s some kind of Holocaust expert, instead of just another left-wing Democratic lawyer and activist. His bio lists no qualifications related to Holocaust or anti-Semitism research or teaching, nor do those of seven of the other eight employees of this supposed Holocaust group.
I don’t support this president, but I’m a Jewish historian who believes in fair play. It’s frustrating to feel I must constantly run to Trump’s defense when members of liberal Jewish organizations make wildly exaggerated charges against him. I’d really like to focus on the ways President Trump’s policies and governing style are inconsistent with the values of my faith tradition, but American Jews will have no credibility to criticize this administration if self-proclaimed Jewish leaders are allowed to invent fake anti-Semitism as a means of undermining a president whose party they despise – and simultaneously getting their names in the papers.
Memo to American journalists: if you wish to speak with a legitimate American Jewish group, the 51-member Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is the gold standard (the Anne Frank Center is not a member). If you want to hear from experts on the Holocaust, try the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. But don’t run after the pretty quote that sparkles the most if its speaker pretty much represents nobody but himself.
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