A former top Justice Department investigator accused Whitney Museum directors of “orchestrating” a “concerted smear campaign” to advance an anti-Israel political agenda with “no relevance whatsoever to the museum’s charitable purpose.”
By Algemeiner Staff
A former top official with the US Justice Department who hunted Nazi war criminals for two decades is spearheading a legal effort to strip the famed Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City of its tax-exempt status.
The move follows a bitter row last year over the resignation of a board member, in which accusations of political bias and anti-Semitism played a decisive role.
In a letter to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) dated May 8, Neal Sher — a former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations and an ex-director of the pro-Israel lobbying organization AIPAC — charged that senior executives and staff members at the Whitney, including museum director Adam Weinberg, had “knowingly engaged in conduct which was flagrantly at odds with the Whitney’s charitable purpose.”
Wrote Sher: “Specifically, they orchestrated and acquiesced in a concerted smear campaign against Warren Kanders, a distinguished member of the Board, in order to advance a transparently political agenda which had no relevance whatsoever to the museum’s charitable purpose.”
Kanders stepped down as vice chairman of the Whitney in July 2019 following a vocal activist campaign protesting his Florida-based company, Safariland, for its sales of tear gas to law enforcement agencies in the US and Israel.
In his resignation letter, the well-known art collector and philanthropist said that the “campaign of attacks against me and my company that has been waged these past several months has threatened to undermine the important work of the Whitney. I joined this board to help the museum prosper. I do not wish to play a role, however inadvertent, in its demise.”
According to Sher, the individuals and groups that demanded Kanders’ resignation were “at the nexus of widespread anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist and terrorism-connected movements.” Sher identified Amin Hussein — a Palestinian-American activist who founded the radical organization Decolonize This Place (DTP) — as the “chief agitator and ringleader” of the protests against Kanders.
“Rather than protecting the integrity of the Whitney’s raison d’être — which is the basis for its charitable status — museum leadership appeased Husain and his band of followers, empowered his unlawful methods and capitulated to his demands,” Sher wrote in his IRS letter.
In a March 2019 blog post, DTP included Safariland’s business relationship with Israel as one of several reasons to target Kanders.
“Safariland manufactures tear gas used against migrant families at the Mexico/US border, water protectors at Standing Rock, Black folx (sic) in Ferguson, Palestinians during the Great Return March, +++. Safariland isn’t ‘over there,’” the group claimed.
In an interview with the Financial Times on Monday, Sher explained why he was targeting the Whitney’s tax-exempt status.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that in order to get things done you have to know where to appropriately apply pressure,” he said. Investigations by the IRS “get under the fingernails,” he added.
Those who supported the Whitney had “every right to expect, indeed to demand, that their donations be used for legitimate charitable purposes, rather than be hijacked to advance unrelated political causes,” Sher emphasized in his letter to the IRS.