Queens Museum director ousted after nixing event due to 'anti-Israel bias'

The decision led to an immediate public outcry, forcing senior management to reverse its decision.

By
February 17, 2018 20:03
4 minute read.
The UN vote, taking place in the main gallery of the Queens Museum

The UN vote, taking place in the main gallery of the Queens Museum. (photo credit: GPO)

 
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NEW YORK – The executive director of the Queens Museum in New York City has been ousted from her position after nixing a November ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the United Nations vote to establish the State of Israel.

Laura Raicovich resigned from her job earlier last week after it was revealed that she and Deputy Director David Strauss orchestrated a premeditated effort to cancel the event.

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Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations initially received approval to rent out the space where the General Assembly took the vote that led to the creation of the Jewish state.

The UN was temporarily housed at the Queens Museum during the late 1940s while its headquarters was being constructed.

Raicovich, however, canceled the commemoration after claiming that pro-Palestinian activists had pressured the museum to kill the ceremony.

The decision led to an immediate public outcry, forcing senior management to reverse its decision and allow the commemoration to take place on its premises.

But the episode left a stain on the cultural facility’s reputation, leading board members to launch an independent investigation into the August cancellation with the help of outside counsel.



Members on the museum’s board of trustees said they were shocked to learn that Raicovich and Strauss were fierce opponents of the State of Israel who “exercised poor judgment” and “knowingly misled” them over the course of the incident.

The independent probe found that Raicovich had been a staunch critic of Israel and did not disclose her hostility to the museum’s board, according to the New York Post.

She also co-edited a book that supports the BDS movement, placing the book for sale in the museum’s gift shop.

“Ms. Raicovich did not disclose her involvement in the book to the board,” the report said, “even though (1) the book prominently identifies her as director of the museum, (2) the foreword she co-wrote states that the goals discussed in the book are ‘complemented by programs, exhibitions and educational initiatives’ at the museum, (3) she paid one of the co-editors for his work on the book with museum funds [and] (4) she placed the book for sale in the museum’s gift shop.”

The report, conducted by the law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman, adds: “She volunteered to communicate the museum’s declination of the event to the Israeli ambassador even though these facts would leave the museum vulnerable to accusations that it’s decision was driven by anti-Israel animus.”

Raicovich also gave permission for the museum to be a “fiscal sponsor” of an online crowdfunding initiative that sought resources to build a Palestinian cultural center in Bethlehem in the West Bank, “without the approval of or disclosure to the board, and without putting into place proper controls for the solicitation or use of such funds.”

CITY COUNCIL MEMBER Rory Lancman (D-Queens) told the New York Daily News on Friday that he was furious with senior staff at Queens Museum following the conclusion of the probe.

“The report really drives home that the decision to block Israel was definitely driven by an antisemitic, anti-Israel animus,” he said.

The investigation also found that Raicovich “showed immediate hostility to hosting the event at the museum even before consulting with the board and then, together with Mr. Strauss, sought reasons why the board should not agree to the event.”

“Mr. Strauss told the Board that the museum had a longstanding written policy prohibiting it from renting space for political events – which was not true,” the report added.

Raicovich later denied the reports findings, telling online publication Artnet News that “I did not mislead the board.”

She said that only the board had the power to cancel the Israel event, adding “I did not have any vote in making that decision.”

She also claimed that her work for the book Assuming Boycott was never hidden from the board and publicly stated her efforts on her social media.

The pro bono investigation conducted by the law firm also found that Strauss tried to cover up the falsehood by adding the political prohibition to the board’s website “only after the request for the event was already under consideration by the Board.”

Strauss also lied to representatives of Israel’s permanent mission regarding the museum’s security concerns about hosting the event, which he claimed would shutter the facility for a week.

“Mr. Strauss made false statements to representatives of the Permanent Mission [of Israel] regarding the Museum’s concerns about hosting the event,” the report said.

The board accepted Raicovich’s resignation and fired Strauss after reviewing the findings, the New York Post reported.

The report also rebuked board members for “not being more skeptical” of the explanations given by the senior staffers, and recommended the museum publish clear written policies and procedures for renting the museum.

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