In 1998, the lay chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Council—which supervises the Washington, DC Holocaust Museum—invited Yasir Arafat to pay the museum an official visit. Walter Reich, then the museum’s director, objected strenuously to the invitation. In an interview with Rafael Medoff, he describes what happened:
I [said] that it was a bad idea—that the museum must be protected from the political or diplomatic use to which it was vulnerable as a federal institution. Many Americans, especially in the Jewish community, distrusted Arafat’s intentions, as did Israelis. Such a visit would be orchestrated by the State Department and the White House to convince the American public, as well as Israelis, that Arafat could be trusted because he wanted to feel the pain of the Jews.
The museum, I said, mustn’t allow itself to become a prop for a politically motivated photo-op. Besides, I added, what if he were to emerge from the museum saying to the press, as he’d often said before, that the Israelis were doing to the Palestinians exactly what the Nazis had done to the Jews? . . .
The night before [Arafat] was supposed to visit, the Monica Lewinsky story broke. The reporters and photographers went to the White House to cover that historic news. There would be no photo-op at the Holocaust Museum. Arafat’s delegation called the museum to say that he wouldn’t be coming. So much for Arafat’s desire to be educated about the Holocaust. Many years later, Aaron David Miller of the State Department, who was also a council member and . . . had [initially] suggested the visit, . . . wrote an article in which he conceded that his idea of inviting Arafat was “one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S foreign policy.”
Today, the museum’s quick retraction of its recent study arguing that U.S. intervention in Syria wouldn’t have helped [defeat Bashar Assad] may have been a result, partly, of the fact that it had been burned by the attempt to use it for political purposes during the Arafat affair. Critics of the Syria study argued that its goal was to justify President Obama’s decision not to intervene in the Syria crisis; they noted that Obama had appointed members of his national-security team to the museum’s council and that a former member of Obama’s National Security Council was the director of the unit that commissioned the study.