Daniel Benjamin sworn in to Council of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

by Alex Fredman | 5/22/17 2:25am

Daniel Benjamin, the director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding, was sworn in as a member of the Council of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. on April 25. Benjamin was nominated for the position in January by then-President Barack Obama. The membership follows Benjamin’s career as a journalist and public servant covering related topics.

The Council, consisting of 55 members each serving five-year terms, acts as the Holocaust Museum’s governing board of trustees and meets twice a year. Since opening in 1993, the museum, which is an independent establishment of the U.S. government and the site of a prominent Holocaust research center, has received 40 million visitors.

“I think [the museum] has changed the consciousness of many, many Americans who would have [had] otherwise no reason to think about the Holocaust or about mass atrocities,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin added that in his new position, he hopes to use his knowledge and experience to further the museum’s mission by engaging in fundraising and publicizing efforts. He also said he wants to use his connection to bring some of the museum’s traveling exhibitions or resident historians to Dartmouth.

“I’m really particularly interested to see what we can do to broaden the impact of the museum and help it become a presence and a source of learning for more people around the country and around the world,” he said.

Benjamin will bring with him a long track record of experience to his new position. He started his career as a journalist, and he worked in Germany from 1990 to 1994, where he was bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and a correspondent for Time Magazine. In 1994, Benjamin joined the executive branch as a foreign policy speechwriter and special assistant to former President Bill Clinton, serving on the National Security Council staff.

Benjamin said that the Rwandan genocide hung heavily over the White House when he first arrived, and that he wrote several speeches about the wars and ethnic violence in the former Yugoslavia. He added that the last speech he wrote in that position was for Clinton’s 1998 visit to Rwanda.

“This was a period when people were deeply concerned about mass atrocities, ethnic violence and the like,” Benjamin said. “The notion of genocide prevention was one that attracted me a lot when I was in government.”

After the Clinton administration, Benjamin worked as a fellow for several Washington D.C. think tanks, including the United States Institute of Peace and the Brookings Institution. Benjamin rejoined the federal government in 2009, when he served in the State Department as an Ambassador-At-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism. Following this position, Benjamin came to Dartmouth in 2013 as director of the Dickey Center.

“We are extremely proud to have Benjamin representing the Dickey Center and Dartmouth on the Council of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Museum’s Committee on Conscience,” Provost Carolyn Dever wrote in an email statement.

As part of his role on the Council, Benjamin will also serve on its Committee on Conscience, which plays a public advocacy role by raising concerns about acts of anti-Semitism, mass violence and xenophobia around the world, according to Benjamin. The committee also works in conjunction with the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

As director of the Dickey Center, Benjamin has worked with this organization during the last several years on the Early Warning Project, an Internet-based monitoring portal that provides analyses of countries around the world at risk of state-sponsored mass killings. The project is run by the Dickey Center, the Holocaust Museum and Dartmouth government professor Benjamin Valentino.

Valentino said that the project uses a variety of statistical models to forecast the risk of atrocities around the world, which involves inputting variables such as democratization, economic conditions and history of violence in each country. In addition, the project collects personal predictions from a pool of 150 experts on genocide and mass atrocities.

“When we put all those variables together, we get an assessment of each country’s risk,” Valentino said. “So the model tells us for each country, each year, what are the chances that, based on these historical patterns, it will have an event.”

Valentino added that he believes Benjamin’s new position with the museum will open new doors by helping the Early Warning Project to expand.

“I think the Holocaust Museum is doing more than almost anybody to try to raise awareness of [mass atrocities] and to help prevent future events like that from happening,” Valentino said.

For Benjamin, the threat of mass violence and xenophobia today is very real. He said we are living in a “scary” time in history, citing a recent 80 percent increase in anti-Semitic activity and an analogous increase in homophobic activity in the United States.

These incidents, he said, in addition to the threat of global terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Boko Haram, make education essential for raising peoples’ consciences.

“It’s clear that the election of 2016 gave a lot of people with some pretty hateful ideas a kind of license to express them and even to act them out,” Benjamin said. “So I think it’s all the more important to be supportive of institutions like the Holocaust Museum at this time.”