The Jewish Federation of the East Bay gloats about cancellation of the Palestinian children’s art show.
Oakland Children’s Museum Cancels Palestinian Children’s Art Exhibit Under Pressure from Local Jewish GroupsPosted on September 10 2011 by Cecilie Surasky under ADL , Arts , Censorship , Educational Institutions , JCRC. No Comments
Berkeley, CA’s Middle East Children’s Alliance broke the news yesterday that the exhibit of children’s artwork from Gaza that they had worked on for months with Oakland’s Children’s Museum of Art was suddenly canceled by the board before the planned September 24 opening reception. The show featured drawings by children about Israel’s infamous Operation Cast Lead, the military assault of December 2008-January 2009 that led to the deaths of some 1,400 Palestinians, over 300 of them children.
(Check regularly at mecaforpeace.org for updates and planned actions- they won’t be taking this lying down.)
MECA said in a statement:
The Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA) has decided to cancel an exhibit of art by Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), which was partnering with MOCHA to present the exhibit, was informed of the decision by the Museum’s board president on Thursday, September 8, 2011. For several months, MECA and the museum had been working together on the exhibit, which is titled “A Child’s View From Gaza.”
MECA has learned that there was a concerted effort by pro-Israel organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to pressure the museum to reverse its decision to display Palestinian children’s art.
Barbara Lubin, the Executive Director of MECA, expressed her dismay that the museum decided to censor this exhibit in contradiction of its mission “to ensure that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children.”
“We understand all too well the enormous pressure that the museum came under. But who wins? The museum doesn’t win. MECA doesn’t win. The people of the Bay Area don’t win. Our basic constitutional freedom of speech loses. The children in Gaza lose,” she said.
“The only winners here are those who spend millions of dollars censoring any criticism of Israel and silencing the voices of children who live every day under military siege and occupation.”
Recognizing that the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council has an established track record of targeting Palestinian cultural expression, I wrote directly to JCRC Executive Director Doug Kahn to find out if they were involved in the board’s sudden decision to cancel the show. Indeed it seems they were, though perhaps not alone. This was his response in full:
East Bay JCRC, working closely with the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, shared with the leadership of MOCHA our concerns about the inappropriateness of this exhibit given the fact that MOCHA – an important and valued community institution – serves very young children.
(MOCHA has only stated that they received complaints “from Jewish groups as well as others in the community.”)
However, it doesn’t seem likely that this is about concerns for children’s sensitivities to war imagery. As the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out in its coverage of the incident today, MOCHA has a significant track record of showing the artwork of children living under war, including WWII, without incident. These images apparently aren’t substantively different.
This is, however, about giving voice to Palestinians-in this case children- who endured a simply extraordinary attack on an illegally captive population of 1.5 million people otherwise known as Operation Cast Lead.
The Israel government and its proxies pulled out all of the stops to undermine criticism of the Operation which drew nearly universal condemnation and triggered massive protest marches around the world. An unprecedented smear campaign was launched against a respected Jewish South African jurist named Richard Goldstone who led a UN task force examining Israeli and Hamas war crimes.
The canceling of the art show should be seen in the context of the Goldstone smear campaign, as well as previous successful efforts by a handful of Bay Area Jewish communal organizations to determine what Palestinians can and cannot say. (In contrast, exhibit organizer, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, enjoys significant Jewish support, and the Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace is one of many exhibit co-sponsors.)
In 2007, the JCRC pressured San Francisco State University to change the content of a mural dedicated to the late great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. It’s worth looking at the mural and then reading the JCRC’s critique to understand the depth of their fear of imagery that is so essential to Palestinian memory of fleeing or being expelled from their homes to make way for the then new state. It is odd, to put it mildly, to read Jewish communal professionals so closely aligned with the Israeli Consulate offering in depth art critiques of Palestinian symbolism in a policy-making capacity.
The JCRC was also involved in a deeply messy battle, along with the Anti-Defamation League, over the content of a San Francisco mural painted by young members of the nonprofit H.O.M.E.Y. which works with at-risk kids in San Francisco’s mission district. Not surprisingly, the groups’ insistence that they represented the vast majority of Jews in the Bay Area-an area known for its commitment to independent thought and open artistic expression– triggered significant Jewish opposition. And of course the JCRC is behind the highly controversial restrictive funding guidelines that essentially bar (or should I say threaten to bar) critics of Israel , including BDS proponents, from speaking prominently on panels of institutions funded in some way by San Francisco’s Jewish Federation.
But something tells me that this cancellation of Gazan children’s art, some of which you see here, may well cross a line for a lot of fence-sitters. While I reject the argument of parity that only applies to Palestinian stories, it certainly would have been wiser to lobby the MOCHA board to either work with MECA on adapting the exhibit or to hold an exhibit-like the Israeli government and others have - of artwork by the children of the Israeli city of Sderot rather than cancel the Gazan exhibit. And to be fair, perhaps they were lobbied to do that but the board chose to wash their hands of the entire issue. We don’t know. I myself would have attended exhibits of children’s art from Gaza or Sderot, and brought my young son. But instead, we have what amounts to yet more erasure. The Israeli government has in essence locked the over 60% of Gazans who are children behind a wall and thrown away the key and forgotten entirely about them. Now the rest of us are supposed to forget about them too.
In the meantime, this must feel like deja vu all over again for MECA. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported about this incident in late 2005:
MECA had teamed up with the Berkeley Art Center and Alliance Graphics to present an exhibit last November and December called “Justice Matters: Artists Consider Palestine.” In their works 14 Palestinian and American artists addressed Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine.
The artists, MECA and the Berkeley Art Center were attacked by the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other people who claimed to represent the mainstream Jewish community. According to Jos Sances, curator of “Justice Matters,” “there was even an effort to close the show down and have the city withdraw its annual support for the Berkeley Art Center.”
Fourteen rabbis (one for each artist?) visited Berkeley’s mayor to condemn the exhibit. The artists were charged with glorifying violence and terrorism, perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes and even lying about their own history.
On the other hand, there was support from the community and e-mails to the Berkeley Art Center included comments like: “A powerful, scathing experience. Thank you for it” and “It was very thought provoking to see the other side.” Even an Israeli offered ”my admiration for your courage in showing this important protest art.”
MECA’s Barbara Lubin says the mayor of Berkeley stood up to pressure and the show went on. The level of denial about Israeli human rights violations has dropped so dramatically in many Jewish communities in recent years—synagogues everywhere across the country are split — that I wonder if 6 years later most of those rabbis would have the same response to challenging art. I suppose we’re about to find out.
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This blog has covered the controversy surrounding the disinvitation of poets Josh Healey and Kevin Coval from the J Street Conference. As you may recall, Josh and Kevin moved their performance to another venue instead.
I was planning to add to the blog an audio recording of the event, just so that people could hear for themselves what the controversy was all about. I am glad I did not. Why? In the meanwhile, Josh produced video recordings instead.
They are absolutely worth a watch. I did not arrive in time to DC to be at the original performance. I confess that watching the videos replenished my soul after a hard Congress Goldstone-bashing week.
Here’s how Josh described the value of Kevin’s poetry:
I know that listening to Kevin provokes a lot in me. Listening to Kevin … makes me want to speak, makes me want to yell, makes me want to cry. It brings out a lot. It brings out more than just reading the newspaper or just reading the BBC — and it brings it out in a way that hopefully we can see more, more in common with each other, more in common with each other’s humanity while recognizing that we are not all the same but we can have the same goals, so for me it is creating a space that is a safe space to maybe not leave the conversation in the same place that you started it.
After you watch these short videos, I hope you will agree that this applies to both Kevin and Josh.
First off, the context:
Josh’s poem that got Michael Goldfarb’s right-wing panties in a bunch:
The beginning of the Q&A, with Laila Al-Arian:
If you want to watch more, go to http://joshhealey.org
If you want to read more from Kevin, here’s a start:
Since the Second Intifada I have thought, wrote, and spoke about these issues, but over the course of these last several weeks, I have arrived at a new beginning. Prior to now, I muddled this issue in complexity. But I have come to realize it is actually simple and clear. I am a Jewish-American man in solidarity with Palestinian people. I am in solidarity with Israeli and American and all people who work and risk their lives and livelihood for justice. I am not restricted to working within the confines of the Jewish-American community. Justice and the resistance to imperialism is a global, human concern for all people down to struggle. For Jews, yes, but not Jews alone. For Palestinians, yes, but not Palestinians alone.
OK, if you still you want to listen to the full audio (no video), here it is.
– Sydney Levy
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I attended what turned out to be the replacement for J street’s disinvited poet panel. Ari Roth from Theater J — who supported the poets by coming out to their reading yesterday at BusBoys & Poets — used the beginning of his time to alert people to the panel that was and delivered a passionate defense of poets from a literary perspective.
Ari urged not taking the words literally and pointed out that one “doesn’t look to poets for rational discourse.” He defended the “right to conjoin symbols,” and asked if “a wonky convention like J Street is comfortable with metaphor.” He dismissed any suggestion that anyone was calling for a boycott of J Street, creating a “truly J Street dialectic: pro-conference and pro-poetry (a play of words on J Street’s tag line, pro-Israel, pro-peace), which led to applause.
He posed two possibilities: we are either entering a “new age of censoriousness” or an “excitement moment,” and noted what great plays have been performed at Theater J, including “Seven Jewish Children,” and a play featuring both Rachel Corrie and Daniel Pearl. All in all, it was a hopeful moment for both art and the conference, whatever the larger moment we live in.
– Jesse Bacon
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Yesterday, we reported that J Street canceled the poetry session at their upcoming conference because a right-wing blogger discovered that poet Josh Healey had invoked the Holocaust to write about Palestinians and the war on terror. (Healey was invited to present by J Street staff, and not Theater J as we incorrectly reported).
This cancellation is interesting in part because it follows J Street’s vigorous defense of Israeli artistic expression as part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. (J Street, like numerous other groups, mistakenly used the term boycott to describe the Toronto Declaration protest. The Declaration opposed the focus on Tel Aviv as part of the Brand Israel campaign but explicitly did not call for a boycott. On the other hand, it might be technically accurate to call the booting of Healey an actual form of boycott.)
Healey doesn’t hold back in this interview today, Poet booted from J Street meet for comparing Guantanamo to Auschwitz, in Haaretz :
“I had a conversation with ‘J Street’ staff, and they explained that they are playing the game - Washington politics, and seeking legitimacy. And they are not willing to fight this battle. I was born in Washington, so I’m not surprised to become Van Jones of J Street,” (U.S. President Barack Obama’s “green jobs czar” who resigned over the controversy about his past political associations).
“So Van Jones resigned, but did the right wing stop attacking Obama? On one level, I understand them - it’s easier to get rid of the poet, who cares? But as an artist and a Jewish activist, it’s a matter of principle. If you’re trying to be an alternative to AIPAC - don’t behave like AIPAC.”
“I told them I don’t think it’s the legitimacy they want, because it’s not the legitimacy that makes change. When you’re trying to make change, you must expect that some people will push back. But they kick out their allies - and I still consider myself an ally. I’m not personally offended - I’m politically disappointed. It’s ironic that we were invited to perform and be a part of the dialogue at the track ‘The culture as a tool for change.’ But we can’t even have this dialogue. The Jewish community acts like children, with smear campaigns and name-calling. I am not surprised by the right wing attacks - but that J-Street went along with it and accommodated it.”
Referring to the specific line which stirred the negative emotions, Healey said: “It was taken of context. Judged by themselves, these lines don’t even make sense. Just before this line, I wrote: ‘I remember when the German soldiers put yellow stars on my family coats and they put pink ones on my friends.’ I was talking about de-humanization. And yes, I have family that was killed in the Holocaust. There were Jewish people killed and gay people and Gypsies, and many others, and as a Jew, my solidarity is with my people - and with all people. And my solidarity is with the people of Israel - but also with the people of Palestine. And I believe in two state solution and peace and justice for all people. And if J-Street are not willing to have debate with people who believe in solidarity and humanity, I don’t know what legitimacy they want, because it’s not a moral legitimacy.”
“I love my people, the Jewish people, and that’s why I’m critical - because it’s my people, my family that are silencing people the same way we were silenced and suppressed for centuries,” Healey concluded.
And here as a longer statement from Healey and fellow banned poet Kevin Coval, who wrote, “The reason J Street put us out to dry is because they feel more accountable to the Right-wing than to us. Let’s change that, and open up the debate.”
Searching for a Minyan:
Israel, McCarthyism, & the Struggle for Real Dialogue
by Kevin Coval and Josh Healey
This weekend, J Street, a new Jewish “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” PAC and Washington-based organization is holding its first national conference. The two of us, along with another artist, were to perform and read poems at several sessions during the conference. Specifically, we were invited to lead a workshop on how culture and spoken word create democratic spaces that sift through difficult issues and ensure a multiplicity of voices are heard: and how that can be used to open up the Israel/Palestine debate. Instead, we have been censored and pushed out of that very debate.
This week, some right-wing blogs and pseudo-news organizations latched on to various lines of poems Josh wrote and churned the alarmist rumor mill saying that hateful anti-Israeli poets are keynote speakers at the J Street conference. This is not surprising. The radical right-wing, including the growing Jewish right-wing of this country and abroad, hates complex discourse, especially when it brings to light truths they seek to systematically deny. The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and their AIPAC-influenced brethren have been attacking J Street for weeks, scared that the conference will bring together the majority of American Jews who do favor a more rigorous peace process. When they found Josh’s poems and took lines out of context, they had the perfect straw man: the Van Jones to J Street’s Obama. Again, this is not surprising.
What is disappointing, and troubling, is J Street’s response in caving to this sort of McCarthyism. The executive director of J Street called us to say “I know what I’m doing is wrong…but there are some battles we choose not to fight,” before canceling our program, and disinviting us from the conference. This accommodates their red-baiting and is the wrong response. Rather than give in, which only emboldens the right and legitimizes their attacks, we need to stand up for our principles and engage on that front. Van Jones is another perfect example: after the Fox News venom became too much and he resigned last month, the radical Right hasn’t stopped attacking Obama, or more accurately, the alternative, progressive voice they fear he represents. The Right stands by its politics, and practices solidarity with their allies. Too often the Left doesn’t. And that’s why we often lose – on health care, on global warming, and on Israel/Palestine.
For the second time in two months Kevin, who is Jewish, has been told not to come to a Jewish conference because of what he will say about Palestine and Israel. This past August, the evening before the International Hillel Conference, conference planners said if he were to read poems about Palestine, they’d rather not have him. Today, Josh, who is Jewish, has had his name thrown into a mudslide of blogs and hate emails. All this because we are practicing the Jewish maxim of the refusal to be silent in the face of oppression, anyone’s oppression.
One of the key teachings of Judaism is the insistence on wrestling with and debating ideas. There are a thousand years of codified arguing, recorded in the Talmud and Midrash, over the meaning of the stories in the five books of Torah. Jews debate everything. There is the old adage, “when you have two Jews in the room, you have three opinions”. Our families cannot come to agreement about what constitutes a deli as opposed to a diner. (A deli must have pickles on the table with poppy seed rolls, etc….)
But when you try to talk about Palestine there is silence. When you talk about the role the United States plays in supporting Israel and its military coffers, there is no room for discourse. If you bring up Palestinians’ right to return to land they were forced out of, or mention that this past January over 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilian, were killed in Gaza, there is no room to speak in Jewish-centric spaces in this country.
There are many reasons why this trend of censorship is disturbing. We believe in democracy, in the right to speak and be heard and in the right be disagreed with. We are disheartened and outraged by the lack of democratic discourse in the American Jewish community and within the country as a whole.
Why are we scared of what will come from an honest conversation? What do we have to lose, or discover, or admit to if we question the policies of Israel or America’s support of its government and military? It can be unsettling for one’s worldview to unravel, the intricate web of white lies and half-truths pulled apart. This can be disconcerting for generations of Jews who have accepted the propaganda of a chosen people and the acting out of geostrategic nightmares via military might.
Kevin works at a Hillel for Hashem’s sake! He is charged with the task of addressing why so many young Jews are distancing themselves from the religious and cultural practice of Judaism. This is one of those reasons! American Jews are told at shul to repent for our sins, but silenced if we bring up the sins of the country that acts in our name. We need authentic, honest discourse in the American Jewish community. It must start today and it must be about Palestine and Israel.
So, we are searching for a minyan—a crew of progressives and progressive Jews to build and connect with. We want to have a conversation. Not wait for the conversation to be dictated and have borders and walls built around acceptable topics, but to have a conversation determined by us, Jews That Are Left, that are on the Left. A conversation that is honest and open and genuinely reclaims and considers our progressive past as well as forges the future world. A conversation engaged in the work of tikkun olam for real, the work of repair and healing and wholeness.
Progressive American Jews where you at? Holla at us! For real: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s reshape the conversation. Let’s build a minyan, a coalition of progressive Jews and gentiles who want what is just and right for ALL people and all people in Israel and Palestine.
Editor’s note: the space that Kevin and Josh imagine for progressive Jews and allies “who want what is just and right for ALL people and all people in Israel and Palestine” already exists and it’s called Jewish Voice for Peace.
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Toronto gallery that severed ties with Palestinian rights activist found in violation of city’s non-discrimination codePosted on August 6 2009 by Cecilie Surasky under Arts , Censorship. No Comments
We wrote back in May about artist Reena Katz’s multi-layered exhibition about Toronto’s historic Kensington Market area. The project, Katz stated, was intended to “animat[e] a dialogue between aspects of Toronto’s diverse Jewish/Yiddish history and its fascinating contact with other cultures.” Sponsors of the project, the Koffler Centre of the Arts, a specifically Jewish art space, abruptly severed ties with Katz after they discovered an endorsement of Israel Apartheid Week on her Facebook page. No one ever suggested the decision was in any way related to the content of the piece or their satisfaction with her work. Here is today’s update from Katz and curator Kim Simon:
August 5, 2009
Dear friends and colleagues;
We are pleased to update you regarding the status of Katz’s performative project in Kensington
Market, each hand as they are called:
As many of you know, The Koffler Centre for the Arts dissociated from Katz and the commissioned project in early May, 2009 because of her political work for Palestinian human rights, and subsequently sent a defamatory press release across the country, falsely claiming that Katz supports the extinction of the State of Israel. Since late May, we have been in legal negotiations with the Koffler about moving forward with the project and we have now reached an agreement. While the specific terms of this agreement are confidential, we are happy to continue discussions about our experience and understanding of the Koffler “dissociation” as well as the project itself.
Simultaneously but independent of our legal negotiations, the Toronto Arts Council (TAC) Board of Directors has been involved in internal discussion, as well as in consultation with the Koffler about their decision to dissociate as well as their professional and ethical conduct. The TAC has determined that the Koffler was in violation of the City of Toronto’s non-discrimination policy regarding an individual’s right to freedom of political association. As it is not TAC general policy to release public statements regarding such matters, for a more detailed statement regarding the decision, the TAC invites you to contact Executive Director Claire Hopkinson directly at Claire@torontoartscouncil.org.
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Muzzlewatch has been covering the San Francisco Film Festival brouhaha. Here are two accounts describing what happened on Saturday, when the movie Rachel was finally screened:
From JVP member Joel Frangquist:
When Peter Stein, director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, took the stage on Saturday to introduce the program for the film “Rachel”, it must have been one of his tougher moments. Stein later told me that getting through the program had “felt like landing a plane in a storm.” It should be noted that the Castro Theater was full, that Stein received a standing ovation, and that when he mentioned Jewish Voice for Peace and the AFSC, there was thunderous applause.
After having reviewed the controversy, and having asked us all to be respectful of the entire program, Stein was followed by Michael Harris of San Francisco Voice for Israel. Harris claimed that his presence could not balance the two hours which were to follow him. As if the “Rachel” program needed balancing within the context of a film festival presenting 37 films from or about Israel, including two about Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas and Hezbollah. As if everyone in the audience didn’t know that Israelis have died in this conflict. As if the film “Rachel” was not going to include Israeli testimonies.
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Efforts to keep Cindy Corrie from speaking at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, ban the film Rachel altogether, and/or defund the festival, inspired filmmaker and peace activist Rachel Leah Jones to write this moving letter from Tel Aviv. Jones is friends with Rachel filmmaker SImone Bitton, and was planning to go to the West Bank the day Corrie was killed in Gaza. The appropriate intensity of Jones’ response reveals the profound chasm in the Jewish world. As though seeing for oneself what the occupation hath wrought, instead of reading the filtered fundraising letters of our childhoods from various Jewish groups, transports one into an entirely different parallel universe. As more and more of us make that journey- literally or metaphorically - the two worlds threaten to explode on contact.
Like the SF Jewish Film Festival, which has, ironically, been a model of integration and vision, understanding that our Jewish community is wide and broad and varied and strong enough to be just that.
It simply remains a fact: any just solution and lasting peace will absolutely require that we join these universes together.
Date: Friday, July 24, 2009, 2:22 AM
From one Rachel to another
An open letter to Rachel Corrie as the screening of the film that bears her name, honors her life, and condemns her death faces shameless criticism and censorship
The day you were crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, was a stormy day in Tel Aviv.
March 16, 2003 — to be exact.
I was seated at my computer editing a collection of reports by Amira Hass filed from Ramallah (reporting from ramallah). It was the first compilation of writings by this Jewish Israeli Ha’aretz journalist to be published since she left Gaza for the West Bank. Come afternoon, I was to head from Tel Aviv to Ramallah, where I intended to meet up with my friend and colleague, filmmaker Simone Bitton. Simone was working on a series of daily video diaries (Ramallah DailY). It was raining so hard, I wondered if I had it in me to schlep across Qalandia checkpoint. It never dawned upon me whether I had it in me to face a D9 house-demolishing bulldozer in Rafah.
I went online to check the forecast, to see if the storm was going to let up, and I saw the newsflash announcing your crushing; anonymous, faceless, nameless. I remember the words American, peace-activist, female. I didn’t know yet that, like me, your name was Rachel. Nor did I know that you too were a “Greener.” I just knew that some folks in the states might mistakenly worry at first glance that the said woman was me. I dropped my mother a line to assure her I was fine. And off to Ramallah I went.
Simone was in a production frenzy but I remember we exchanged a few words about it: “Did you hear?” “I heard.” Finally the rain subsided, and posters bearing your likeness sprang up like mushrooms. Ramallah was covered in them: a blond, blue-eyed, “girl-next-door,” sweatshirt-wearing martyr. People were deeply moved. Someone other than they, someone who “didn’t really have to,” had put their life on the line. And since we all know that in the deranged Western economy of imagined human worth one blond, blue-eyed, sweatshirt-wearing life is worth 100 if not 1,000 brown-haired, brown-eyed, not sweatshirt-wearing lives, your death was like a massacre.
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Subscribe to Jewish Peace News. Defense of German Critic, Halper in Australia, Seven Jewish Children–A Play for GazaPosted on April 13 2009 by Cecilie Surasky under Anti-semitism , Arts , Censorship , Publishing. No Comments
The wonderful Jewish Peace News has a a bunch of stories worth checking out. Better yet, consider subscribing to this important news source.
More than 370 Jewish peace activists from around the world signed a statement defending German politician Hermann Dierkes against charges of anti-Semitism.
Dierkes, a left-wing politician with a distinguished record of fighting for social justice, called for a boycott of Israeli goods as a means of putting pressure on the Israeli government to end its oppression of Palestinians. For this he has been subjected to vicious denunciations for anti-Semitism.
JPN picked this up from Antony Lowenstein. It is Jeff Halper’s unpublished op-ed on getting censored during a trip to Australia. As JPN’s Racheli Gai writes:
“The following article was written by Israeli/American peace activist Jeff Halper for the Australian Jewish News. The paper refused to run the piece, despite spending weeks attacking Halper and his supporters in its pages.
The type of dynamics Halper describes in the essay, where organized Australian Jewry comes to the “rescue” of an idealized Israel - an “Israel” which has nothing to do with Israel as a real country, doesn’t seem unique to Australia. It’s certainly the case in the US, and I suspect in other countries as well, that the Jewish diaspora latches on to an imaginary Israel for its own needs, even while Israel puts Jewish diaspora to its own
As JPN’s Rebecca Vilkomerson wrote, “Caryl Churchill, a renowned British playwright and feminist, wrote a short play called: Seven Jewish Children–A Play for Gaza. It premiered in London in February and in New York on March 16th, in an event marking the anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death. It was produced at the New York Theatre Workshop, which was the center of a controversy three years ago when it backed off from its decision to produce the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie.”
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More on the story about the Spertus Museum:
Last week, the Chicago Reader spoke with Rhoda Rosen, the smart and courageous director of Spertus, Chicago’s Jewish museum. The Imaginary Coordinates exhibit on maps of the Holy Land (held as part of the city’s Festival of Maps), which Rosen worked on for 3 years, recruiting both Israeli and Palestinian artists, “was suddenly and mysteriously shut down” a week after opening. The public reason for the closure was too much sun light shining on the displays. This excuse was, pardon the pun, transparent. Chicago Reader’s Deanna Issacs remarks that the museum was housed in a spectacular state of the art showpiece building completed 6 months before, making the excuse unlikely.
For the next few days the museum’s Web site carried a notice that Imaginary Coordinates had been closed due to “unanticipated maintenance.” Reached by phone early in the week, Rosen blamed “building issues” but declined to elaborate. A call to Krueck + Sexton was referred to architect Tom Jacobs, who hadn’t heard anything about it. Subsequent calls to Rosen were returned by the museum’s outside public relations rep. No further information was available.
Meanwhile, word on the street was that the exhibit had proved too controversial for some key members of the Spertus audience. The Jewish United Fund, a major Spertus supporter, had taken a look and promptly canceled a May 13 fund-raising dinner booked for the tenth floor boardroom. Michael Kotzen, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, says he moved the event after hearing from “a number of people who thought the exhibit wasn’t appropriate” in “content and point of view.”
Then came word that the show would reopen “tweaked,” as Rosen put it, and with a new protocol: visitors would be admitted only on guided tours, to be conducted hourly. On May 15, she led the first tour herself, providing background on everything from Heinrich Bünting’s 16th-century German map, The Whole World in a Clover Leaf (with Jerusalem as its nexus), to Barbed Hula, a two-minute video of Israeli artist Sigalit Landau on a Tel Aviv beach, twirling a hoop of barbed wire around her naked torso. Other pieces include Ahmad Ibrahim’s Memory Map of Jimzu, showing every house destroyed in his Palestinian village in 1948, and artifacts like a menorah with shell cartridges for candleholders.
Other changes were made as well:
Rosen, who worked on the exhibit for three years, notes no art was removed from the show during the closure, although wall cards were revised and objects were rearranged. A case containing a paligirl T-shirt and black shorts with palestine emblazoned across the butt (sold by Detroit-based HZwear) was moved from its original spot on the path between the elevator and the boardroom. Rosen no doubt had some difficult days during the hiatus, but insists she’s not defensive about the result: “The board, staff, and myself stand behind the integrity of this exhibit,” she says, adding that the guided tours will provide “context” and encourage discussion.
It sets a terrible precedent to require tour guides for an art exhibit, to revise explanatory cards on the wall, and to even move items, but it’s important to see the forest for the trees. It’s likely that Rosen and staff did everything they could to protect the show. She and Spertus deserve support and kudos for standing behind the exhibit, which by all accounts is thought-provoking, beautiful and terrible, and highly relevant to political discussions today.
Funders used to supporting independent and critical thinking on everything BUT Israel-Palestine politics will have to get used to this new landscape. Besides, exhibits like these, are indeed, “good for the Jews.” Thank Spertus and Rosen for standing behind the show.