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Censors and Sensibility

Under pressure, a Bay Area children’s museum canceled a show of art by children from Gaza. That’s shameful, but so was scheduling the one-sided show.

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A drawing from “A Child’s View From Gaza.” (Courtesy Susan Johnson, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Young Palestinian Artists of Gaza)

Last week, the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland, Calif., abruptly canceled a long-planned show featuring artwork by children in Gaza. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the museum was pressured into dropping the show, titled “A Child’s View of Gaza,” in part because of lobbying from Jewish organizations.

The response in the Bay Area was quick, loud, and horrified. Bloggers decried the museum’s cowardice. (“Disgusting and horrifying,” raged Philip Weiss at Mondo Weiss.) The show’s organizer, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, issued a statement: “Our basic constitutional freedom of speech loses. The children in Gaza lose. 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.” Author Alice Walker wrote on her blog that the incident showed Americans’ refusal “to accept that we’ve had a hand in making a small child armless, legless, eyeless.” She drew a parallel with American slavery: “We will eventually, on this issue of freeing the Palestinians, find a Lincoln.”

Yikes.

I object to Walker’s parallel of Palestinians and African-American slaves—but, as they say, I’d defend to the death her right to make it. I’m a hardliner on censorship; I’ve written about my dismay with Jewish organizations in Canada attempting to get a pro-Palestinian book removed from a voluntary reading list and about my objection to a new version of Huckleberry Finn that replaces the word “nigger” with the word “slave.” But in this case, I think there’s more nuance.

I am disgusted with the museum’s justification for its board’s abrupt about-face on a show that had been in the works for months. The board chairman, Hilmon Sorey, wrote that the board decided that images of violence and bloodshed were “not appropriate for an open gallery accessible by all children.” “This wasn’t something we felt as a board that the organization could responsibly exhibit,” he told the San Jose Mercury News. But I don’t buy that. Did the museum really not see the art before committing to the show? It had already been displayed at a library in Maine, and much of it is featured on the Middle East Children’s Alliance’s web site. The larger problem with Sorey’s explanation is that the museum has shown children’s portrayals of war before. In 2004, after the United States began fighting in Iraq, it exhibited art by Iraqi children. In 2007, it displayed children’s art from World War II, including images of Hitler, sinking ships, terrified Jews.

To me, at least, it seems clear that the museum bowed to pressure from Jewish groups. “Great news! The ‘Child’s View from Gaza’ exhibit at MOCHA has been canceled thanks to some great East Bay Jewish community organizing,” the Jewish Federation of the East Bay tweeted after the museum’s cancellation announcement. It added: “Thx to @SFJCRC [the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council] & the many others who worked to make sure this extreme anti-Israel propaganda was stopped.” To attribute the cancellation to the works’ “graphically violent and sensitive” nature, as Sorey did, rather than to the lobbying of Jewish organizations strikes me as cowardly.

That said, I think the museum was idiotic to agree to host the show in the first place. The Middle East Children’s Alliance is not an unbiased organization. It is a manifestly anti-Israel group. Barbara Lubin, who founded the Berkeley-based organization in 1988, has referred to the 1948 war for Israel’s independence as “ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population.” “The concept of ‘Jewish morality’ is truly dead,” she has written. MECA does not acknowledge that there are two sides to the Israel-Palestinian conflict: To the group, Israel is evil and Palestinians are good. And the art it planned to display in Oakland reflects that perspective: An Israeli soldier shoots an unarmed man in the head. Babies bleed while Israeli soldiers watch. A combat boot bearing a Jewish star stomps on the Palestinian flag.

There’s no sense here that Israeli Jews suffer in this conflict as well. There’s no sense that this is a land in which everyone lives with the threat of violence. There is no sense of historicity, of the fact that both peoples have legitimate claims to this land, or that the Hamas charter calls for the obliteration of Israel. There is no mention of the thousands of Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on the city of Sderot, of the Ma’alot massacre that killed 22 Jewish children, the Dolphinarium dance club suicide bombing that killed 21 Jewish teenagers, the shooting at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva that killed seven kids, or last month’s shooting on a public bus in Eilat that killed five.

Children don’t have to be fair. They owe us nothing; they are entitled to share the version of the world they see and know. But it is the job of adults to provide context. And the Museum of Children’s Art exhibit—relying on the curatorial efforts of a political organization with a strong bias and mission—failed miserably to do that.

I wish that the museum had realized from the start that they were showing only one side of a complex political struggle and chosen to work with an organization like Seeds of Peace or Hand in Hand that would have given a broader picture of this conflict. I wish that Jewish organizations, instead of snuffing out the show, had helped the museum to find children’s art showing that Israeli Jews suffer too. And most of all, I wish the museum had chosen to mount an exhibit that showed that there are groups and individuals on both sides of this bloody conflict who are working for peace and who present a non-cartoonish view of The Other. Slamming the door on dialogue serves no one.

MECA’s Barbara Lubin doesn’t understand this. She’s correct in calling this incident an “insistence to silence the voices of Palestinian children.” What she doesn’t get is that free speech is an all-or-nothing proposition. Over a decade ago, Lubin was one of the organizers of an attempt to stifle a point of view she didn’t agree with. In December 2000, she led a group of 200 demonstrators in storming the Berkeley Community Theatre before a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu. “He has a right to free speech, but we have a right to try and stop him,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. If Lubin believes she has the right to silence others, how can she object when others try to silence her? Free speech doesn’t work that way.

Lubin’s group is now planning a guerrilla event at the museum on September 24, the day the show had been scheduled to open. Presumably the press will be there in full force. Maybe there will be Jewish counter-demonstrators. It’s all so ugly. How ironic that MECA’s web site features a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”

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John Brosseau says:

Must every display of artwork by Jewish children be accompanied by artwork by
Palestinian children? The author’s
insistence on both or none seems a bit
wired.

John Brosseau says:

Ms. Ingall doesn’t get it. A show with
art only by Palestinian children is not
inherently biased. Does every show
containing art by Israeli children have
in addition art by Palestinian children.
I doubt it. Let’s all be less touchy.

Dani ben Leb says:

Mr. Brosseau,
the point is Barbara Lubin, her actions and her organization. And the subject matter, which is plainly curated for political effect. All this in a public museum? Regardless where I stand on anything, even in the East Bay, surely museums and similar institutions should not be instrumentalized. Imagine the US’s Christian right curating an ‘exhibition’ on say abortion in Oakland.
The museums board should be asked what they were thinking when this exhibition was permitted to go ahead ?
Why don’t we use ALL museums for all sorts of political events!? But knowing Lublin and her posse, they’d shout others down. So there is no real chance of that happening.
In England it is considered uncouth to bring politics to the dinner table. The same may be said for museums.

Marsha Roseman says:

Would we be in favor of showing the Nazi childrens works of art during World War 2?
Palestinian children are no less indoctrinated. They are taught a steady stream of Jew hatred from birth. Why in the world should we want to
Influence our adults and children to think like them or admire them?
We Jews are a funny lot……..we want peace so much that we make excuses for those who want to destroy us.

andrew r says:

“Would we be in favor of showing the Nazi childrens works of art during World War 2?
Palestinian children are no less indoctrinated.”

It’s funny how there are different ways of looking at WWII. The leftist would look at it as working class soldiers vs. fascism. The jingoist would say it was democracy vs. totalitarianism. The racist would say it was the Aryan race against Judeobolshevism. And the Zionist? WWII didn’t end, the Nazis just became Palestinians. Give me a break.

andrew r says:

In the article, Ms. Ingall writes, “Barbara Lubin, who founded the Berkeley-based organization in 1988, has referred to the 1948 war for Israel’s independence as ‘ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population.’”

Later, “Slamming the door on dialogue serves no one.”

It amazes me that anyone can deny the Palestinians were expelled by force, as Jews were only 1/3 of the population in Palestine circa 1947 and in the UN partition boundary, “Israel” only had a Jewish majority of 55%. After the armistice agreements between the Israeli govt. and the Arab states, the Palestinian refugees weren’t allowed return to their normal place of residence. What do you think happened in between? And can there really be dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians without acknowledging how the refugees were dispersed?

Marsha Roseman says:

I am denying that the Palestinians were chased out of Israel. They left when they knew the mighty Arab countries would invade Israel, believed the Israelis would lose the war, and then they, the Palestinians would return, triumphant in their victory.
only problem was…….the Arabs lost the war.
Today, the Palestians still refuse to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, and their maps eliminate the State of Israel.

andrew r says:

What have we got here? A four-line glossing of a year-long event in which 750,000 people who fled their country are portrayed as aggressors. And the side that stood to gain from their expulsion did and could do no wrong. Oh, you left out the part where the Israelis would have lived in peace with the Arabs had they not resisted the Zionist project. No self-serving history is complete without making the bad guys who lost their country to their own foolishness irrationally rejecting the magnanimity of the invaders.

Andrew, most of the 750,000 Arab people who left Israel with the onset of the war in 1948 weren’t the aggressors. It was the 4 Arab countries (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt) surrounding Israel that encouraged the “native” Arab people (who weren’t all that native actually, they migrated there when the Zionist settlers who started coming in the 1880′s actually began to have some success and Arabs from the north, east and south realized there was work in Palestine) to flee and avoid becoming casualties while they crushed the fledgling Israeli state and pushed the Jews into the sea.

The Palestinians lost their country when they followed their Arab cousins’ advice and chose to reject the 1947 UN partition plan that the Zionists’ happily celebrated.

No self-serving history is complete without distorting and ignoring facts to suit your own warped view of what actually happened. Starting with the fact that the Arabs attacked the Jews in 1948, not the other way around (so much for “invaders”).

andrew r says:

The Zionists did not accept the 1947 partition – they paid lip service to the idea while ignoring all the recommendations and the borders. Next, the UN should not have partitioned Palestine to begin with, showing its not a vehicle for int’l law so much as the major powers (Stalin gave 5 yea votes to partition).

I argue the Zionists were invaders because the British invaded Palestine with an auxiliary force called the Jewish Legion, including Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky and Eshkol, and the Jewish Agency/Haganah took over from the British. What’s more, even if the Arab states hadn’t intervened, Palestine wouldn’t have been Judaized without the Zionist paramilitaries conquering the villages and expelling their inhabitants. Bottom line, the Zionists were colonial settlers who wanted to replace the locals and took to expulsion when mass immigration wasn’t working.

My own ‘warped view’ is what you’ll find in the archives of the IDF, Haganah and CZA (containing various writings, correspondences and minutes from leaders and groups of the movement). Israeli historians like Benni Morris and Gershon Shafir do a good job of incriminating the movement and they aren’t even anti-Zionist.

andrew r says:

Also, on the Arab states encouraging the Palestinians to flee, see the last paragraph for an example on how that’s a load of dreck. This is a typical passage from ‘Birth Revisited’ by Morris (p. 106-107). The citations are all reports from Haganah ranks:

Haganah reprisals tended to grow over the months in size and lethality. Dozens of Arabs were killed and wounded when Palmah agents at the end of February introduced a car bomb, with ‘300 kilograms of explosives’,
into an Arab garage suspected of being a weapons workshop.252
On the night of 4–5 March, a Haganah unit raided Wadi Nisnas with orders to ‘kill adult males’. They penetrated several houses, destroyed the furniture with Molotov Cocktails, and hit about 30 men, ‘among them 19 sure kills’.253 On 17 March, the Haganah ambushed an Arab arms convoy, accompanied by Arab Legion vehicles, from Lebanon near Kiryat
Motzkin, blowing up two of the trucks. Among the dozen Arabs killed (and two Britons working for the Arabs) was Muhamad bin Hamad al Huneiti, the Jordanian commander of Haifa’s militia. Two Haganah men were killed and two injured.254 The ambush, which was followed by a series of sharp Haganah strikes in Haifa itself, severely shook Arab morale.255
Once again, queues of Arabs formed outside the Lebanese and Syrian consulates, but the applicants were told that entry into these countries ‘was prohibited’. ‘Those with medical documents [i.e., conditions]’ were
also denied visas.256

Dani ben Leb says:

andrew r,
it was a war. people got killed on both sides. would you like me to quote some kill-stories where the bodies were Jewish? Or do you think only Arabs were killed in 47? what is this? Oakland’s historical kindergarden? The Jews were outnumbered but they did there homework, prepared and kicked arse. Otherwise things would have looked very grim. The Arabs always lost, and they will continue to lose, for good reasons.
But the article is about what happened in Oakland. Not what you chose to quote from Mr. Morris, who btw is a great Zionist and argues that the Arabs started the war, they flipped a coin and ended up with mud on their face. When you start a war, you need to make sure you can win it. Otherwise you lose, everything. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Coming back later and wanting to change the rules of the game is lame. Only bad losers do that. And the Arabs are terrible losers, which leads to the “breeding” of refugees. But that’s another story.

andrew r says:

Okay, there are three lines from this blowhard nonsense meriting a response.

“But the article is about what happened in Oakland”

It starts off in Oakland until it veers into nakba denial which I already quoted.

“Mr. Morris, who btw is a great Zionist and argues that the Arabs started the war”

That he does. He also argued in ‘Birth Revisited’ that, “transfer was inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism – because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a ‘Jewish’ state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population; and because this aim automatically produced resistance among the Arabs which, in turn, persuaded the Yishuv’s leaders that a hostile Arab majority or large minority could not remain in place if a Jewish state was to arise or safely endure.” (p. 60)

Although Morris basically wants us to blame the Arabs for their own displacement, he is still suggesting here that transferring them would have been a goal regardless of how they reacted to Zionist settlement. How you handle that contradiction is your own problem.

“And the Arabs are terrible losers, which leads to the “breeding” of refugees.”

Is this racist against Arabs? Yes. It also hints at one of Zionism’s basic tenets, disdain of the diaspora Jew. After all, what were Jews doing for 2000 years if not breeding galuyot?

Nilly Gill says:

Dear Marjorie,

“Thank you for your well written article “Censor and Sensibility”!
Although I live in San Diego, Ca. I was’nt aware at all of this intended show at the Museum of Children’s Art at Oakland.

As an American-Israeli artist myself, I wholeheartedly agree with your paragraph “I wish the museum had chosen to mount an exhibit that showed that there are groups and individuals on both sides of this bloody conflict who are working for peace and who present a non-cartoonish view of The Other. Slamming the door on dialogue serves no one.” In politics (I am not really political minded- but thinking in a broader basic way as one human being to the other) the tendency is always one sided, unfortunately it enters the arts in many cases.
Curating a children’s art exhibit showing both sides, Israeli children as well as Palestinian children would open a dialogue- rather then point accusing fingers.”
Nilly Gill

Dani ben Leb says:

andrew r,
“Although Morris basically wants us to blame the Arabs for their own displacement, he is still suggesting here that transferring them would have been a goal regardless of how they reacted to Zionist settlement. How you handle that contradiction is your own problem.”
Appropriate word being “would”. Meaning you are hypothesizing .
I am no racist, I go to the Arab world. I have friends there just like Lubin. But even they agree that the Arabs are ‘losers’ at this instance in time. And it has sweet f all to do with Zionism. When over twenty percent of the population can not read ( sometimes over 40% ) you’ve got issues mate, in every department of development. A few years ago the UNDP wrote that more books are translated into Greek than Arabic. You know how many Greeks there are as opposed to Arabs?

andrew r says:

“Appropriate word being “would”. Meaning you are hypothesizing .”

That might be the case had Morris been the only Israeli scholar to air the dirty laundry of the Yishuv. Now that was hypothesizing.

“I am no racist, I go to the Arab world. I have friends there just like Lubin. But even they agree that the Arabs are ‘losers’ at this instance in time.”

When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Dani ben Leb says:

which hole? The Arab spring that never turned to summer? again, and again, and again.

Excuse me, what evidence do you have that the Zionists paid “lip service” to the partition? The dancing in the streets the night it was announced? Please show me documents and maps. Already from your first sentence you’re spouting nonsense propaganda because you won’t find any. Ben Gurion happily accepted the Partition plan and that was supposed to be the end of that. Except for the fact that when Israel formally declared independence in May 1948, the Arab countries immediately attacked.

Andrew, give it up. No one believes your crap theories except for the loony lefties that pop by here to give Tablet its color. Go back to your little hole to hate. I think I’ll have a few more babies here in Israel just to spite you.

Dani ben Leb says:

I have a few ideas for exhibitions in the wider Bay Area about children in conflict.
1.
Assuming the Arab militias in Darfur spared the children of the 400.000 people they murdered recently we could rent an airport hanger and have a show of what they saw. Opening attended by Branjelina & G. Clooney- think press!!
2.
The children’s paintings of Turkeys Kurds and the orphans of forty years of active suppression and the “official” 40.000 dead Kurds in Turkey. This week the Turkish army ordered the “evacuation” of civilians from Kurdish villages in a part of Turkey.
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=gendarmerie-orders-mandatory-evacuation-of-highlands-in-se-turkey-2011-09-30
Turkey has “evacuated” 3000 Kurdish villages according to Human Rights watch in the last 25 years.
3. A sample exhibition of the children amongst the 500.000 Turkish Kurds who made their new home in Germany in the last decades. They came to Germany because they just love the food and the great German winters, they remind them of their winters back home.
4.
An Iraqi orphans exhibition by the left overs of the worlds most brutal on going car bomb campaign ever.
5.
A show of a selection of Somali children’s paintings of what they saw in the past few years.
6.
And last but not least an exhibition of children’s paintings from Iran. This could be a mixed theme of children of torture victims, younger kids whose gay siblings were hung for being gay, the orphans of the Bahai and maybe even some from the Sunni minority .

Andrew r,
you might wanna apply for a curatorial position with Lubin, my guess is there is work to be done, museums to be won over and sponsors to be energized!
GO TEAM MECA!

andrew r says:

“Ben Gurion happily accepted the Partition plan and that was supposed to be the end of that. Except for the fact that when Israel formally declared independence in May 1948, the Arab countries immediately attacked.”

I’ll spare you the Ben-Gurion quotes indicating otherwise and go directly to the Haganah operations outside the partition boundary before 15 May.

http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Maps/Story570.html

Operation Ben-Ami – Began 13 May; Acre fell on 17 May (Morris p. 230); Haganah also raided Acre on 26 Apr, “hitting the town with mortars and machineguns, demolishing three
houses in the village suburb of Manshiya and briefly conquering Tel al Fukhar, that dominated the town from the east. Mortar rounds landed on Acre Prison, triggering a mass prisoner escape.” (p. 209)

Operation Nahshon (Ramle area) – “On 6 April – the official start of Nahshon – Khulda and Deir Muheisin fell to Haganah forces. (…) By 10 April, Haganah orders explicitly called for the ‘liquidation’ [hisul] of villages.546
(…) The order posited the ‘blowing up’ of the enemy ‘bases’ of ‘al Qubeib, ‘Aqir, Biddu, Beit Surik, Beit Iksa, Beit Mahsir and Suba’, and Ramle.547″ (p. 235)

And Deir Yassin hardly needs explanation. Although IZL/LHI did the actual killing, the attack was supported by Haganah machine-gunners from Givat Shaul and two Palmach armored car squads (p. 237)

Three examples of Haganah attacks that took place outside the partition boundary before 15 May.

andrew r says:

“I think I’ll have a few more babies here in Israel just to spite you.”

Oh ho no, don’t do it for me. Do it for Der Deutschen Mutter. (Sorry, you walked into that.)

Good article, fair and balanced to the point that it’s understandable that most of the comments here aren’t actually about it; vthe stupider/more dishonest/uglier the writing of any online piece, the more it brings out the same elements and sends the comments figure soaring. If an organization is biased and against free speech, then having them as pointmen for those issues is, well, not a good idea.
On a side note, were the pieces in this attempted propaganda display really done by young kids? My guess is part yes and part no.

Dani ben Leb says:

This just in:
“GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A teachers’ strike has closed U.N.-run schools in the Gaza Strip for a day and escalated a long-simmering conflict between the territory’s Hamas rulers and a U.N. agency.

The strikers are protesting the three-month suspension of the leader of a teachers’ union for alleged political activity linked to Hamas. Hundreds of teachers rallied outside the local U.N. office Wednesday.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency is the largest independent body in Gaza, providing health care, education and welfare services to many of territory’s 1.5 million residents. The agency suspended the union leader after he appeared at an event with Gaza’s Hamas prime minister.

The strike has affected 220,000 students.”

Michael says:

This isn’t art it’s propaganda. Does anyone really think it was done spontaneously by children?

What I find shameful as well a sham is this author’s indignation that a children’s exhibit should not have had the fee right to be exhibited on its own.

Lou Adams says:

Why do these angry folks come by with outdated and misrepresented articles and attempt to revise history. Oh I know, they hate Jews, it’s a play in time that they imagine we won’t recognize. Then to make it funnier they drop a line of Deutsch.
Man oh man what a riot.
A good article that asks a good question, why would anyone schedule an obvious propaganda ploy that uses children.

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Censors and Sensibility

Under pressure, a Bay Area children’s museum canceled a show of art by children from Gaza. That’s shameful, but so was scheduling the one-sided show.

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