Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center, explains why the organization began criticizing President Trump. (Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

Steven Goldstein couldn’t stop watching himself, but who could blame him? He says CNN wouldn’t stop running the clip.

CNN commentator: “You think the president does not like Jews, is prejudiced against Jews?”

Goldstein, director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, staring straight at her:

“You. Bet.”

“You bet!” Goldstein affirmed when The Washington Post asked him the same question two months later, after a string of near-constant attacks had transformed the Anne Frank Center — born from a teenage Holocaust victim’s diary — into an organization best known for calling President Trump’s White House anti-Semitic or worse.

Goldstein — who in other lives fax-spammed attacks on the cigarette icon Joe Camel from a Democratic senator’s office, and was once played by Steve Carell as a “big, loud, gay Jew” activist in a movie — said he kept watching CNN after his appearance in February.

For “24 to 48 hours,” he said, until he was sick of his own voice.

“It was aired over and over and over and over again,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, God, Steven, shut up!’ ”

Others have suggested the same since Goldstein took over the Anne Frank Center less than a year ago, closed its small museum in New York and added “for Mutual Respect” to the decades-old name.

“Every time I read that he says something under her banner, I feel uncomfortable,” a Holocaust survivor and former leader of the Anti-Defamation League said Friday in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“Anne Frank has suffered enough,” wrote Tablet magazine, accusing Goldstein of “astro-turfing” a globally beloved martyr to genocide.

But Goldstein, 54, won’t shut up. Far from it.

As he tells it, declaring that the White House press secretary is a Holocaust denier, that the president may hate Jews and that his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon definitely does, is how you prevent a second Holocaust.

“What do the words ‘never again’ mean if we don’t take a stance, and take a stance early?” asked Goldstein.

He’s hardly the only person alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric and actions regarding Jews.

Trump retweeted a picture of the Star of David on a pile of money; hired Bannon from a website that the latter has called “the platform of the alt-right”; and released a presidential statement about the Holocaust that did not mention Jews, among other examples.

“We too see social developments that cause us great concern,” wrote a spokesperson for the Anne Frank House — a museum in Amsterdam set up around the secret annex in which the Jewish teenager wrote her diary before Nazis found and killed her.

“We stay out of the political playing field,” she added — noting that the museum still considers Goldstein’s group a U.S. “partner” in educational activities.

Yvonne Simons, who led a much quieter Anne Frank Center for a decade before Goldstein replaced her last year, told The Post that during her directorship, “there was not an alarming administration, as there is today.”

“Steven is not a bystander,” Simons wrote. “He is raising that awareness.”

Employees at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have privately vented concerns about the Trump administration, Caitlin Gibson reported for The Post, even as their leaders work to balance an “activist mission … and studiously nonpartisan stance.”

Goldstein doesn’t have that problem.

For good or ill, he has used a small organization to move a beloved teen’s legacy into the center of a nationally captivating political fight.

It’s not the first time in his life he’s done something like this.

What happened in Goldstein’s home state in 2005 could have easily remained a matter of dry local politics: a vote on whether to grant police pensions to same-sex partners in Ocean County, N.J.

But the police officer in question, Laurel Hester, was dying of cancer. And in her effort to leave her pension to her lesbian partner, she enlisted the help of Goldstein and his fledgling equality group.

So what might have been a soon-forgotten vote instead sparked widely televised protests and served as a key early victory in the gay-marriage movement — and then led to an Academy Award-winning documentary and, finally, a Hollywood film in which the star of “The Office” played Goldstein.

Steve Carell-as-Goldstein, speaking to conservative county officials in “Freeheld”: “I know I’m the type of guy who scares you; I’m a big, loud, gay Jew.”

Goldstein would tell a reporter that “Freeheld,” released in 2015, was a “grotesque stereotype,” hyping his protests while ignoring the sensitive political negotiations that made Hester’s victory possible. The film was “downright anti-gay,” he said.

He also saw it at least six times.

Today, Goldstein joyfully recalls giving Carell character tips. He says scenes in Freeheld were a blend of fact and fiction.

He really did get down on his knees in front of Ocean County’s elected officials and lead the room in a chant: “You have the power!” he said.

He says he did not, as his character does moments later in that scene, whisper to a protester: “It’s political theater.”

Though he acknowledged to The Post: “That’s an element of it.”

“We tell stories that make people laugh, scream, cry or gasp,” Goldstein once told an audience, quoting Oprah Winfrey’s advice to him when he produced for her show early in his career.

“I was like Forrest Gump,” he told The Post — weaving through law school, journalism, TV, activism and at one point a stint in rabbinical school.

And politics, of course.

One of Goldstein’s models, he said, is the late Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who hired him in the 1990s to run his press office. “He never put his finger to the wind before he expressed an opinion,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein would mass-fax news releases from the senator’s office, with sensational 72-point headlines, he said. They’re catalogued in old newspaper articles he has saved in a text file:

“JOE CAMEL DEAD!”

“FLORIDA, SHMORIDA”

“THE AYATOLLA IS LAUGHING FROM HIS GRAVE”

And some of the articles note that before hiring Goldstein, Lautenberg had been fairly reserved.

So had the Anne Frank Center.

Goldstein said he, like most people, had no idea that the Anne Frank Center existed when a headhunter approached him in early 2016. He was a professor then, another “lifelong dream,” he said, teaching government and communications at Rutgers University.

He spoke plainly in his job interview, Goldstein said. He told board members that the museum and educational tours weren’t enough. As the news release announcing his hire last June put it, Goldstein was a “force of nature” who would make the Anne Frank Center “a national leader in exposing and fighting hate.”

“They knew what they were getting with me,” he said.

What they’ve gotten is attention.

MR. PRESIDENT, YOUR TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE ACKNOWLEGMENT OF #Antisemitism TODAY IS NOT ENOUGH. Statement of Steven…

Posted by Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect on Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tens of thousands of thumbs-up on the group’s Facebook page, where Goldstein has continued the tradition of all-cap headlines.

And thousands of comments, including this one: “Thank you Mr. Goldstein for having the courage to speak the truth and for refusing to normalize Drumpf’s horrific ‘behavior.’ ”

And a collection of thank-you cards from Muslim children, after Goldstein attacked Trump’s refugee bans.

And a 3,600-word article in the Atlantic last week that explored the center’s history and concluded that it was a tiny organization with a thin scholarly pedigree. But “because it talks a big game and wields the name of Anne Frank, the media has awarded it authority it never earned.”

Thank-you cards for the Anne Frank Center from Muslim children. (Courtesy of Steven Goldstein)

Goldstein bristles when accused of practicing politics with the legacy of Anne Frank, whom he calls “one of the greatest feminist and social justice leaders in history.”

“The people who are hijacking Anne Frank’s diary are the people who refuse to read her social justice exhortations,” he said.

 

Goldstein points out that when he took over the Anne Frank Center, Hillary Clinton was widely expected to become president.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to harsh criticism from the Anne Frank Center that President Trump's acknowledgment of anti-Semitism was simply a "Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration." (Reuters)

“There was no grand plan to build this organization as an anti-Trump organization that would appeal to the liberal base and raise money and get publicity,” he said. “It was because of President Trump’s own words and actions, or lack of them.”

So now, we have Goldstein’s words in response, under Anne Frank’s name.

He knows his accusations offend some, but insists they’re measured descriptions of dark times.

“I do for the first time in my life question whether I am safe in the United States as a Jewish person,” he said.

Goldstein sleeps with a laptop, he said. He often wakes at 3 a.m. to read about something Trump or an aide has done, and writes a statement before dawn that might slip into the news cycle.

Last week, after the Atlantic cast doubt on the center’s claims to have been founded in 1959 by Otto Frank, Goldstein said he and his staff dug for hours through old boxes until they found the “smoking gun document” proving links to Anne’s father. The Post did not independently verify the authenticity of the document.

Goldstein sometimes wonders whether this will be the first job in his career that burns him out.

No sign of it yet, though.

Goldstein spoke to The Post on a visit to Washington, to meet someone who saw his attacks on Trump and “wants to give us money,” he said. He expects the center’s budget — for nine employees — will increase about $500,000 this year.

If he has to spend some time in the crosshairs, too, so be it.

“I understand that you’re a reporter and the sexy story here is Anne Frank versus Trump,” Goldstein said.

“Or Goldstein versus Trump,” he added in the same breath.

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