Sunday, September 11, 2011

First They Came for the Jewish Film Festival …

I am so upset that I am nearly incoherent.  Once again, the bullies who pose as protectors of Jews have bullied an institution into canceling a cultural event – in this case, an art exhibit by children from Gaza.  The exhibit, initiated by Middle East Children’s Alliance, has been planned for months and was scheduled to open in just two weeks.  The cancellation not only robs the Gazan kids of the opportunity to share their work with international kids; it also deprives Bay Area kids of the chance to participate in a number of events and workshops that were planned to accompany the exhibit.

The people who pressured the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland to cancel the show have not made any statement explaining what’s so threatening about children’s art.  It’s hard to imagine what they could say.  But the question is not why they wanted to shut it down – that’s obvious.  They feel that kids’ drawings of soldiers pouring into houses, people running from helicopters raining ammunition, demolished homes, kids in prison, will make people sympathetic to the kids and hostile to the people – the Israeli government – who sent the soldiers and the helicopters.  People are likely to believe that if kids are drawing such things, it’s because they have seen them.  So the victims of the attacks must be forbidden to speak about it.  It is not very different from our culture’s use of shame to prevent women from speaking out against rape.  It is an extension of Israel’s new “Nakba Law,” which prohibits schools and other public institutions from talking about the war crimes committed against Palestinians in Israel’s 1948 “War of Independence.”

The question is why a public museum here in the United States, in the supposedly progressive Bay Area, could be persuaded to participate in this act of censorship.  This is only the latest in a long list of such successful campaigns – from the one that got the Toronto LGBT Pride Parade to ban the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from marching to the one that got the LGBT Center in New York to cancel an Israeli Apartheid Week party, to the one that got DePaul University to deny tenure to Professor Norman Finkelstein, to the one that got City University of New York to rescind an honorary degree offered to playwright Tony Kushner (an action which was ultimately reversed).  It’s a continuation of the mobilization that brought new restrictions in the activities of Bay Area Jewish organizations after the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival had the temerity to show the film, ‘Rachel,” an Israeli film investigating the death of U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie in Gaza.

Usually the rallying cry of the organizations that demand these events be cancelled is “Why are you singling out Israel?” although in fact, the institutions targeted rarely are doing that.  But in this case, it is the Palestinian children who are singled out.  They alone, among all the children in the world, are not entitled to a voice, because allowing their voices to be heard might bring criticism to Israel.

Imagine for a moment that MOCHA were presenting an exhibition of Tibetan children’s art, and supporters of the Chinese government protested that allowing people to see drawings by children who lived under Chinese occupation was anti-Chinese.  Not only can I not conceive that MOCHA would cave in to the pressure and cancel the show, but if they did, every human rights and civil liberties organization in town, or in the country, would be screaming foul.  In fact, I would bet that the same Jewish organizations who act so decisively and aggressively to shut down anything that might generate sympathy for Palestinians would be among those decrying censorship by pro-Chinese forces.

While we don’t know exactly which organizations brought what pressure to bear on the museum and its donors, we do know that Palestinian cultural events are among the targets of a six million dollar campaign launched last year by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.  I happened to run across a blog urging people to protest the exhibit.  Under this photo of a piece allegedly part of the planned show,

the author(s) of the blog write(s):
“Notice the use of Jewish stars in the "art" turning this from simply a chronicle of childrens experiences during war, into a demonization of Jewish state. The anti-American imagery provides a nice touch, too.”
Now I would point out that every one of the “Jewish stars” in the drawing is in fact an Israeli flag.  The American flag is a representation of the well-known fact that much of the ammunition Israel uses in Gaza is supplied by the U.S.  Are Gazan kids taught that in school?  Yes.  Why shouldn’t they be?  If our country believes in arming Israel to the tune of $4 billion a year, including supplying illegal white phosphorous bombs used in populated areas during Operation Cast Lead, we should not mind that being depicted in a child’s drawing.

The blog then goes on to make this claim:
“The Children of Sderot, just a mile from the Gaza border are truly living under siege, suffering from daily missile attacks. Indeed, there are common threads in the drawings, yet the Israeli children manage to convey the horrors of war without the use of anti-Islamic imagery.”
This is one of the photos they used to illustrate their point:

 In fact, the Israeli child's picture is remarkably similar to the Gazan child's.  The rockets are painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag.  But by conflating “Jewish” with “Israeli”, and contrasting it with “Islamic,” the Zionists hope to convince the uninformed that this is a religious battle between Islam and Judaism, and also to wish the Palestinian nation out of existence.  This builds on Golda Meir’s assertion that “There are no Palestinians.”
And therein lies the basis for their objection to the exhibit.  If people are allowed to see art by children in Gaza, they might get the idea that Palestinians actually do exist.

The good news is that the censoring of the exhibit has drawn much more attention, both in the mainstream press and the blogosphere, than the exhibit ever would have.  We need to use that attention to turn the focus on the real issues:  bullying and censorship.

We learned that Niemüller poem, “First they came for the unionists…” in Hebrew school.  It’s time to make a new version:  “First they came for Norman Finkelstein …”

Don’t wait til they come for you.  Speak out now: call/write/email MOCHA.  Be polite and respectful, tell them how much you were looking forward to the exhibit, tell them you believe all children have the right to be heard and ask them to change their decision.


  1. This is pretty horrid, I think. And your takedown of the "Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers" post is sharp, on the mark -- if that's what you mean by "incoherent," offenders who leave you in full command of your faculties had better watch their backs.

    I've written to MOCHA. Their auto-responder says I'll get a reply within three business days.

  2. brilliant analysis. thanks Kate!

  3. New info: Someone from MECA received this information from Doug Kahn of the Jewish Community Relations Council:

    "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."

    So people might also want to call or write JCRC, 415.957.1551,, and protest this act of censorship.