(CNSNews.com) - By taking sides in controversial political and religious issues, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has departed from its original charter of telling the story of the Holocaust and therefore disqualifies itself from receiving federal funds, a national Jewish organization said.
Toward Tradition, a national coalition of conservative Jews and Christians based in Mercer Island, Wash., criticized the museum, among other things, for showing visitors a film that links Nazism to Christianity and for sponsoring a panel that accused the CIA of genocide.
"Many people who aren't Jewish feel uncomfortable criticizing an institution that almost represents the Holy Grail of American political discourse right now," said Yarden Weidenfeld, national director of Toward Tradition, in a phone interview. "But we believe that as a predominantly Jewish organization, we have a special role to play in making the case for why the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum should not be federally funded."
The group took issue with the museum for celebrating a book that charged Israel with "ethnic cleansing" and for seeking to appoint, as director of its Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, a scholar who compared the election of President Reagan to the rise of Nazism. The scholar, John Roth, eventually withdrew under protest.
The museum, which receives an estimated 2 million visitors annually since it opened in April 1993, was built with private donations on land provided by the U.S. government in downtown Washington, D.C.
Congress mandated the creation of the museum in 1980, and 60 percent of its funding comes through the House Appropriations Committee. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, whose members are appointed by the president, oversees the running of the museum.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, said in a statement, "As time goes by, it becomes increasingly hard to see how one might explain to, let us say, a wheat farmer in Iowa why his tax dollars should go to support such a foolish institution. Nor is it as if the United States had anything whatever to do with the Holocaust, a fact that made the museum a questionable object of federal largesse to begin with."
A museum movie shown to visitors that links Christianity to the rise of Nazism is a "glaring example" of abuse of taxpayer funds, Weidenfeld said.
While the history of Christianity in Europe, especially during medieval times, was marked by anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews, "American taxpayers and American Christians have absolutely nothing to do with that," Weidenfeld said.
"In the American context, Christianity has served as a very philo-Semetic influence on American non-Jews and the relationship that American Christians have had with the Jews is one of tremendous admiration and love and respect.
"We believe that since this museum is supported by American tax dollars and engages in any type of efforts to link Christianity with Nazism - those two facts together are tremendously problematic and ultimately not showing the proper gratitude and respect that we believe Jews owe American Christians," he said.
The museum, which is open to the public free of charge, tells the story of 6 million Jews and other minority groups that were exterminated by the Nazis in Europe between 1933 and 1945.
Other commentators criticized the museum for what they called its one-sided portrayal of the issue of homosexuality during the Third Reich.
Nathaniel Lehrman, M.D. has pointed out what he called a "grave historical error" to the museum regarding its documentation of the relationship between homosexuals and the Nazis, but the museum has refused to consider his work.
"The Nazi Party was largely homosexual," said Lehrman, a Holocaust scholar and commentator. "But the only discussion the Holocaust Museum has had about the relationship between homosexuals and the Nazis is the story of the 5,000 to 10,000 homosexuals who were sent to camps, and who possibly died there. The homosexuals were victims. The notion of homosexuals as perpetrators has been systematically ignored by the museum."
Toward Tradition said the museum was taking sides in other controversial issues. "There are many Zionist and zealous Jews who were concerned that the museum celebrated a book that charged Israel with ethnic cleansing and accused the CIA of genocide. This over-politicization of the Holocaust is of great concern, but it makes it all the more so when the institution that is promoting this is the recipient of federal tax dollars," Weidenfeld said.
Toward Tradition also criticized Rabbi Irving Greenberg, chairman of the Holocaust Museum's Council, for writing to President Clinton on museum stationary in the last days of the administration, urging him to pardon alleged tax cheat Marc Rich.
Permitting Rich to return to the United States without criminal penalty would be "one of the most Godlike actions that anyone could ever do," Greenberg said.
Tom Cooney, a museum spokesman, said a communication by Rabbi Greenberg was printed on museum stationary "in error" and Greenberg had acknowledged his mistake to the council members.
Addressing other concerns raised by Toward Tradition, Cooney said the documentary shown to museum visitors "did not attempt to blame anything on Christianity."
Instead, "it was pointing out that at a time when Christianity was prominent, some things happened in the world that weren't very palatable," he said.
"It's a matter of things not being looked at in the right context," Clooney said. "Two million people go through this institution every year, including decision makers. Everybody is aware of what we're doing and how we're doing it, and clearly they don't have the kind of issues that this particular group does. Quite clearly we're not engaged in any kind of action other than one that explains to people what happened at a particular moment in time and what led up to that."