Tag Archives: Palestine

Oakland Children’s Museum Cancels Palestinian Children’s Art Exhibit Under Pressure from Local Jewish Groups

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.


NY’s famed LGBT Center folds under pressure – bans “Party to End Apartheid!,” Israeli Apartheid Week event and groups

Taking Pinkwashing to a whole new level, one of Israel’s very very good friends– gay male pornographer Michael Lucas– is boasting that he single-handedly got NY’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans Community Center to not only cancel a “Party to End Apartheid” fundraiser to cover costs for Israel Awareness Week, but to ban the group from ever renting there again. How? You know, the usual calls from supporters and threats to withhold major donations (according to Lucas). Stephen Thrasher in the Village Voice writes:

Lucas, one of gay porn’s most outspoken figures, is known equally for his “Men of Israel” films, hisrabidly right-wing political writing for theAdvocate, and his custom-made dildo in the shape of his own manhood.

We were surprised at how quickly he succeeded.

Just hours after writing, “It was an inexcusable decision on the Center’s part to associate itself with a hate group like Israeli Apartheid Week, but there’s still time for them to reverse course and begin restoring their reputation,” Lucas proclaimed victory, writing: “We prevailed! Congratulations to everyone who stood with me in support of Israel. With your help it took only eight hours to accomplish our mission.”

The LGBT Center released a two-sentence statement: “We have determined that this event is not appropriate to be held at our LGBT Community Center, which is a safe haven for LGBT groups and individuals. Therefore, the meeting at The Center has been cancelled and the host group will no longer meet at The Center.”

Safe haven? For whom exactly?

Perhaps it’s the use of the word ‘apartheid’ that got to Lucas. The event was part of Israel Apartheid Week- but that word, whether you agree with it or not, has long been used to describe conditions in Israel by many including former education minister Shulamit Aloni, and former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair. And how is Israel so utterly weak that it apparently cannot stand strong or at worst strident language? Isn’t this the core of democracy- protecting popular and unpopular speech?

Here’s a recently released open letter from Queer Palestinians that has something to say about safety, which should extend beyond safety for just Michael Lucas and his friends. It also makes a compelling case that many other groups have made for aligning LGBT freedom with other struggles (including the fight for free speech). A message likely long ago internalized by the LGBT Center except, it turns out, when it comes to Palestinians.

We believe that, as Queer communities, we must pay close attention to any grave human rights violations on our way to support the LGBTQ struggle, especially in a context where the country in question that oppresses, discriminates, and implements an apartheid system. We should question the ethics and the values of Queer organizations or groups that voice fervent support for and participate in an apartheid state’s institutions. Human rights should not be compartmentalized, and the human rights of a certain group should not be more important than others’. We, as Palestinian queers, cannot ignore the struggle and the rights of the Palestinian people.  To us, the two struggles go side by side.

All I can say is, the LGBT Center screwed. It’s appalling how easily they folded to threats from right-wing donors-apparently it took just 8 hours to make this unprincipled decision. I can’t imagine that NY area LGBT activists, who love and helped build the ground-breaking center, are going to like this anymore than the activist community in Toronto that staged a full-out Cairo-style rebellion when a small group of right wing friends of Israel similarly pressured Toronto Pride into banning the word ‘apartheid’ , when associated with Israel, in the parade. (Pride overturned the decision because, like this decision, it was indefensible.)

Thrasher says:

“Party to End Apartheid!” was a benefit for the Siege Busters Working Group, whose membership includes Emily Henochowicz, a Cooper Union art student who lost an eyeduring a peace protest in Israel, and the group Existence is Resistance. Both groups are raising money to send another aid ship to Gaza. The last such unsuccessful effort led to the death of nine people (and to the protest where Henochowicz lost an eye).

Been to Israel/Palestine lately? The FBI may come knocking on your door.

By the time she was in high school, Sarah Smith had already been named one of the 100 most influential women in Chicago by Chicago’s business magazine, Crain’s. Now Smith, who happens to be Jewish, has been subpoenaed by the FBI to appear before a grand jury on January 25 to explain her trip to Israel-Palestine with two Palestinian women friends. (As terrifying as this whole episode is for everyone involved, it says something about Palestinian safety that only Smith has come forward publicly.) All three young Chicago residents have been subpoenaed, joining ranks with 14 other peace activists from the Midwest who have been similarly targeted in recent months.

Here is Sarah Smith’s full statement from a December 6 press conference:

Friday morning, December 3, I received a phone call from an FBI agent. He asked if I had about 30 minutes to sit down and speak with him so he could ask me some questions. I asked about what and he said he “was not at liberty to discuss it.” I then asked if I needed a lawyer present and he said it was up to me but that I was not in any trouble and that they just had a few questions.

I felt something suspicious about him telling me he wanted to ask me some questions, but he would not tell me what these questions were. So I said that I had to consult a lawyer and check my schedule and that I would get back to him. I reiterated that it would be easier for me to meet him if I knew why an FBI agent wanted to sit down with me. He then said that it had to deal with the trip I took this summer. He then emphasized, “I think you know which one I’m talking about.”

The trip I took last summer was to Israel and Palestine. I am Jewish and wanted to see first hand what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians. If I went on the standard tour to Israel, I would not be shown how Palestinians live. So I went on a tour that showed me both worlds, Israel, and the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. I went with 2 Palestinian-American friends. You would think Jews and Palestinians going together to visit Israel and Palestine is something the U.S. government would encourage.

Instead, we are now being ordered by the FBI to go before a Grand Jury for going on that trip. The US government says it supports peace between Israel and Palestine. It says it supports separate Israeli and Palestinian states.

So why does the FBI investigate us because we went to see the Palestinian land? Top US government leaders meet with Palestinian leaders, so why does the FBI investigate us because we talked to average Palestinians on the street?

I went there so I could make up my own mind and talk about what I saw. It seems to me our government wants to hide what Israel is doing to Palestinians. I would like to thank the Committee Against Political Repression for standing up for me and my friends. You can learn about case at stopFBI.net, and please make a donation there. Or you can make a donation for our legal expenses: to NLG Foundation, memo line: FBI raids and mail it to Sarah Smith, 2961 S. Bonaparte, Chicago, IL 60608

Smith’s father, Stan Smith,  added “I think Patrick Fitzgerald, the US District Attorney, Robert Parker of the FBI need to see my daughter and her friends and apologize to them. And I think President Obama, who was elected in 2008 because he said he would stop this sort of thing, should make a point on his next trip to Chicago to personally apologize to my daughter and her friends for how his government is intimidating them.”

Meanwhile, there are actions across the country to protest this crackdown on peace activists (sign the petition here). Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola has this report:

The hunting down of activists began on September 24th when the FBI raided homes and offices of activists from Minneapolis and Chicago. Computers, phones, documents and other personal items were seized and the FBI officially subpoenaed 14 activists to appear before a Grand Jury. The FBI began to contact members of the “peace community” and ask them what they knew about the subpoenaed activists’ “material support for terrorism.”

The attorneys representing the activists have noted “the current definition of “material support’ can cover just about anything, like providing humanitarian aid that ends up in the hands of a group tagged as ‘terrorist’ by the US government, or posting a link to an informational website. The implications of this law, as it is being used, are troubling to anyone who does community organizing, or anyone who does journalistic reporting or academic research on wars, conflicts or controversial movements.”

Months later, the activists in Minneapolis and Chicago have not been charged with a crime, but they continue to face possible jail time if they refuse to go before a Grand Jury and participate in this “witch hunt.” They have yet to have their belongings, which were seized by the FBI, returned.

Democracy anyone?

December 3, 2010 press conference

Israeli Knesset completes step 1 of 3 in criminalizing nonviolent economic pressure against the Occupation

Real News Network, a professional online alternative to US corporate media, has this comprehensive report about a Knesset bill to criminalize Palestinian, international and Israeli efforts to promote and enact boycotts against Israel. Last week, it passed its “preliminary reading” in the Knesset, with two more rounds to go to become law.

If passed, this stunning bill will mark the most severe and antidemocratic backlash thus far against the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement (BDS) to pressure Israel to abide by international law. Continue reading

Israeli law to criminalize advocates of boycotts, inside or outside of Israel

My JVP colleague Sydney Levy just posted on our sister blog, TheOnlyDemocracy? This effort seems largely triggered by the Palestinian boycott of settlement goods which has already had a significant economic impact. Ynet reports:

The bill was initiated by the Land of Israel lobby in the Knesset and was endorsed by members of various factions, including Kadima party whip Dalia Itzik and Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tsachi Hanegbi.

by Sydney Levy | 

What is Israel’s reaction to the growing nonviolent movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions? Well criminalize it, of course!

We just learned new bill has been introduced in the Israeli Knesset by 25 Knesset members, that would criminalize all boycott activities or even boycott advocacy inside or outside Israel. You can find info about this in English here and with more detail in Hebrew here.

The proposed bill would target those that initiate, encourage, or provide assistance or information about boycotts against Israel.

Israeli citizens or residents of Israel could be sued by whoever was harmed by the boycott and would have to pay up to 30,000 shekels in restitution and an additional amount according to the harm established by the Israeli courts.
This provision would endanger the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, Boycott from Within, among others.

Those that are neither citizens nor residents of Israel would lose the ability of entering Israel for at least ten years and would be forbidden from economic activity in Israel (holding an account in an Israeli bank, owning Israeli stocks, land, or any other good that requires registration.)
It is not clear whether this provision would apply also to entry into the West Bank, although Prof. Noam Chomsky’s denial of entry may be a sign of things to come.

A group in a foreign country would also be forbidden from economic activism in Israel. This would apply to the Palestinian Authority as well.
In the case of the PA, Israel would freeze transfer of money it owes and would use it to pay restitution to those harmed in Israel by the PA boycott of settlement goods.

Billboards demanding end to aid to Israel taken down

Mondoweiss reports:

A few week ago we posted about ten billboards going up around Albuquerque, NM calling for congress to cut off aid to Israel. They were put up by The Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition working to “end to the ten year commitment of $30 billion in U.S. taxpayer-funded military aid pledged to Israel in 2007 by the Bush administration.” Today, the coalition sent out a press release saying that although Lamar Outdoor Advertising had signed a contract to run the billboards for eight weeks, they care coming down after three. From the press release:

On April 8th, the Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel erected the billboards throughout the  Albuquerque area in order to inform the public about the misuse of their tax dollars, denominated in human lives. The group was motivated by concern for the Palestinian people who had recently been subjected to a massive invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military. Over 1,400 Palestinians – mostly civilian, including three hundred children – were killed and over 5,000 were injured. In 2007 the Bush administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Israel over a ten year period beginning in 2008. The majority of these dollars will be used to purchase American-made weapons.

The design of the billboard had been approved by Lamar and the billboards’ wording and final image were suggested by Lamar’s graphics designer.

According to information from Lamar, it appears groups claiming to be pro-Israel have conducted a campaign to pressure Lamar to remove the billboards. The Coalition believes this is a deliberate attempt to silence its right to free speech because the humanitarian message of the billboards supports equal rights for the Palestinian people, thereby necessitating criticism of Israel.

Countering Palestinian/Nazi analogy and Never again, for all

A must-read for fighting back- Moshe Yaroni watched Alan Dershowitz’s shameful association of Palestinians with Nazis and deconstructs the arguments:

Let’s be clear about Hajj Amin: he was a venomous anti-Semite, and his hatred eclipsed the bounds of the Palestinian national struggle. There is no disputing that he worked with the Nazis and that he espoused murderous hatred of Jews, not just Zionism. But such diverse scholars as Zvi Elpeleg, Idith Zertal and Peter Novick have all concluded that his actual role in Nazi plans was insiginificant and that, as Zertal put it, “…in more correct proportions, [he should be pictured] as a fanatic nationalist-religious Palestinian leader.”

Meanwhile, Sol Salbe’s Middle East News Service has translated from its original Hebrew this article about Jewish suffering and the Holocaust. Salbe writes as a preface:

Yediot Acharonot columnist Ariana Melamed’s comments are not particularly original. Others have observed the Israeli attitude to other peoples’ suffering summed up in the saying “after what they have done to us…”. But not only does Melamed puts it better than anyone else that I have read, she does bring it up to date. As the UN Conference on Racism is about to wind down, it is important to remember that the “never again” lesson need to be applied universally and that the ethos of victimhood exempts no one from doing the right thing.

Hebrew original: http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3703925,00.html

As victims, we’re allowed

Ariana Melamed

Mistakenly, we continue to believe that being historical victims completely frees us of the need to develop solidarity with humanity and of the duty to consecrate the living, not only the dead.

Continue reading

Durban Conference ends with a bang

This is from the final press statement of Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who announced the likely adoption of the final report and then launched into it:

It was very difficult. I had to face a widespread, and highly organized campaign of disinformation. Many people, including Ministers with whom I spoke, told me that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which as you know was agreed by 189 states at the original World Conference Against Racism in 2001 was anti-Semitic, and it was clear that either they had not bothered to read what it actually said, or they were putting a cast on it that was, to say the least, decidely exaggerated.

Many others have labelled the entire Durban process as a “hate fest.” We have had some rough moments in the process, but a “hate fest?” I’m sorry, this is hyperbole. It is a gross exaggeration. But it is everywhere on the Internet. And I’m sorry to say many mainline newspapers who incidentally declined many op-eds that I sent up to them. Because I kept urging States to take part, one of the most vociferous opponents of the conference called me the “dangerous High Commissioner for Human Rights.” So if you see a special look about me, that’s the danger. Another called me the “ludicrous High Commissioner for Human Rights.” That look I have dropped since. I expect these types of personal attacks to continue for the rest of my tenure. But I can live with them because I see this conference as a success and I know that you will judge this process in a valid and fair way.
Continue reading

Indigenous peoples and Israel-Palestine

Harley Eagle works with First Nations peoples with the Mennonite Central Committee in Canada. I was stunned to learn that he has been approached on multiple occasions by Canadian Jewish groups who identify as aboriginal. “They come to us and tell us ‘our paths are similar. We have gotten our land back. We hope the same for you. We are cut of the same cloth.’” (I wrote about former Canadian AG Irwin Cotler’s Jews-are-aboriginal formulation here.)

Harley says they tend to target Christian aboriginal people as well as inter-tribal political groups to form a larger political body.  They invite people on trips to Israel.

But Harley’s group had already been doing an exchange program with Palestinians. “For we younger First Nations people who haven’t experienced colonialism and being put on reservations directly, the Palestinian program helps us remember what our people went through. It’s very powerful, but for the Palestinians, visiting Native American reservations is shocking because they see the future of their own people.”