Could censorship of children’s art prove a turning point?

Israel/Palestine
on 16 Comments

If I were one of the Zionist operatives who pressured the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland to cancel the exhibit of Gaza children’s drawings, I’d be kicking myself right now.

If they’d simply ignored the whole thing and let its scheduled two-month run proceed, probably no more than a few hundred people, most of them school children, would have seen the show. It’s not as if MOCHA is a major attraction.

But thanks to the ham-handed censorship engineered by the Jewish establishment – and the determined fight-back of the Middle East Children’s Alliance and others opposed to such bullying – thousands of people around the world have seen the kids’ pictures.

Last Saturday 500 or so crowded into a makeshift storefront gallery and spilled over into the street outside at an upbeat grand opening of the show around the corner from MOCHA – see Annie’s description here, video here (including the music of the Brass Liberation Orchestra, featuring my daughter Sarah on snare drum), more video and photos here and here, and a frustrated Zionist take on the event here. Thousands more have seen at least some of the images online - here at Mondoweiss, on Facebook, on YouTube, even in a slideshow posted on the online editorial pages of the two largest newspapers in the East Bay. 

Lots more Bay Area residents and visitors will get a chance to see the pictures in person this fall, as they will remain on display at MECA’s new gallery for the next two months at 917 Washington Street in Oakland, a block from Broadway between 9th St. and 10th St. (MECA is still trying to work out hours and staffing, so before you head for the show, check at www.mecaforpeace.org, email [email protected], or call (510) 548-0542.)

Gaza exhibit storefront 9 24 11
MECA’s new storefront Gallery, Sept. 24, 2011. (Credit: Dave ID, Indybay.org)

And after the Oakland run is over, the show will very likely continue elsewhere – MECA’s been swamped with requests from groups all over the world who want to show it next.

Powerful as the pictures are, another aspect of this episode may prove even more important in the long run: it has brought the power of the local Israel lobby, and their determination to use it to suppress Palestinian perspectives, out into the open, for all to see. That’s partly because the Anti-Defamation League and its allies can’t resist boasting about their “victory,” Pyrrhic as it may be. But it’s also because MECA and friends have worked hard to spell out what we all know really went down here, despite the MOCHA board’s attempt at apologetic obfuscation. Outraged activists spread the story far and wide via listservs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., and MOCHA’s e-mail account and Facebook page (apparently now closed down) were barraged with indignant messages. A protest rally outside MOCHA last Friday afternoon (video and photos here and here), in the run-up to Saturday’s opening, wasn’t huge, but it attracted representatives from some important constituencies beyond the usual Palestine-solidarity activists. Much of the organizing energy behind the event came from San Francisco’s Arab Resource & Organizing Center, and dozens of Muslim Americans (including a slew of young women in hijab) turned out.

SFnewsfeed 9 23 11 MOCHA demo
Rally at MOCHA’s gate, Sept. 23, 2011. (Credit: SFnewsfeed.us)

In addition, Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association (the local teachers’ union), read a powerful letter, approved unanimously by the OEA executive boad, condemning the museum board’s decision to cancel the show. (Despite its name, MOCHA is mainly an art-in-the-schools program, so the teachers’ statement carries particular weight.) And Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voice for Peace delivered a forceful and well-received speech condemning the censorship from a Jewish perspective.

Clearly the museum board has felt the heat. One piece of evidence: During the Friday rally MECA associate director Ziad Abbas reported that a representative of the board had called just a half hour earlier and offered to have “A Child’s View from Gaza” shown at MOCHA after all – provided MECA would agree to some unspecified “modifications” to the show. Appropriately, MECA director Barbara Lubin apparently told MOCHA where to stick that idea – in addition to a principled refusal to allow the childrens’ expression to be censored, MECA had already that morning signed a two-month lease on the storefront around the corner, which is actually a much more visible location than the museum itself.

Even the mainstream corporate media has covered the controversy, on the whole much more fairly than they usually do when the topic involves Palestine. The San Francisco Chronicle pointedly listed several past MOCHA exhibits that included images of violence, belying the museum board’s sudden reluctance to expose children to such sights. The two main East Bay papers (now owned, like nearly all newspapers in the Bay Area except the Chronicle, by one company) have been even better: In addition to the editorial Adam excerpted here, both the Oakland Tribune and the Contra Costa Times, which claims a circulation of about 168,00 in other sections of the East Bay, have carried two excellent columns by staff columnists shredding MOCHA’s decision to cancel the exhibit – here and here.

I’m not sure about TV – I hardly ever watch it – but the story has also been all over the radio, and not just on Pacifica’s KPFA. Predictably, National Public Radio’s story on Weekend Edition Saturday gave a lot of time to Rabbi Douglas Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the East Bay, apparently one of the principal perps in this case. So did Michael Krasny during a half-hour segment on Forum, a popular interview show aired on KQED, the Bay Area’s largest public radio outlet, yesterday. But both shows also gave the outspoken Barbara Lubin considerable time to lay out her perspective.

On KALW, San Francisco’s alternative public radio station, Dore Stein, DJ of a wonderful Saturday evening music show called Tangents, devoted the segment he calls Gaza Corner, a weekly feature on the show since the 2010 flotilla attack, to the MOCHA case last weekend. And yesterday (as Annie noted in comments at the time) host Rose Aguilar, host of KALW’s popular Your Call interview show, devoted her whole hour to discussion and call-ins with MECA associate director Abbas and Susan Greene, a clinical psychologist and artist who has worked on Palestine-themed murals in Gaza, the West Bank, Olympia, WA, and San Francisco as part of the Break the Silence Mural Project.

Obviously, none of this debate changes the facts on the ground in Palestine, and the power of the Israel lobby in national politics seems to go stronger by the week. But even though the lobby likes to show off its power on ceremonial occasions, it prefers to do its dirty work in the dark, and forcing its machinations out into the open, as I think we’ve done to a significant degree in this case, can only lead more Americans to question and eventually challenge it. Alice Walker, in her inspiring blog post on MOCHA’s cancellation of the Gaza exhibit, compared it to the Daughters of the American Revolution’s infamous 1939 refusal to allow Marian Anderson, the celebrated black contralto, to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. That decision provoked widespread outrage, and Anderson eventually sang instead on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before an integrated crowd of 75,000 and a national radio audience. The incident is now remembered as a milestone in the demise of overt racial segregation in this country.

Of course, Anderson had Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt on her side, at least in that dispute. Today, unfortunately, Barack Obama has unabashedly lined up on the side of the racists when it comes to Israel/Palestine (as has Michelle, if only by her silence). Still, the resistance that’s greeted the cancellation of “A Child’s View From Gaza” over the last few weeks leaves me thinking that this incident might yet go down as something of a turning point, at least in the Bay Area and perhaps beyond, in the battle against Zionist thought control.

SFnewsfeed 9 23 11 Shame
Credit: SFnewsfeed.us
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16 Responses

  1. Kathleen
    September 29, 2011, 9:31 am

    Lots more awareness discussing the censorship the Jewish successful effort to shut it down. I had two folks who have never shown any concern about the I lobbies successful efforts s to shut down the debate, the truth about the conflict bring up the issue with me. They were aware of the censorship

  2. Les
    September 29, 2011, 9:36 am

    Dennis Bernstein has a sound clip of visitors to the opening on his September 26 Flashpoints program including one voice of a regular Mondoweiss contributor whose name some will recognize.

    http://www.flashpoints.net/

  3. Dan Crowther
    September 29, 2011, 9:56 am

    I was at the Occupy Boston initial general assembly Tuesday night and the resounding theme was “we refuse to be categorized and grouped, we are all humans and we are all brothers and sisters.” A man named Matthew Krawitz gave an interview with the Guardian talking about-among other issues- “foreign interests in our politics.” He didnt get into specifics, but if he is sincere and also agrees with the statements of others made that night, he is, by definition, an anti-zionist.

    It’ s happening. It’s happening all around us.

  4. Walid
    September 29, 2011, 10:05 am

    Wow! that was one huge encouraging report, Henry. Thanks.

  5. seafoid
    September 29, 2011, 10:28 am

    Great work there in California. It all comes back to injustice and hypocrisy, doesn’t it ?

  6. seafoid
    September 29, 2011, 10:47 am

    Maybe this won’t be the turning point but it’s another hole in the dam. It’s all about awareness of the machine. And the energy the machine needs for small victories like this. Eventually the costs outweigh the value.

  7. stopaipac
    September 29, 2011, 11:03 am

    One would almost imagine that the anti-Palestinian Lobby’s efforts were directed recently by those that would want to do it lasting and perhaps irreparable harm. Add to that its embrace of the extreme Right (see its support of Rev. Hagee and Glenn Beck , the latter dropped from Fox because he lost all the sponsors), and we have a Lobby that is increasingly being marginalized, if not among officeholders then at least by the rank and file. Poco a poco.
    We will see where all this leads. In early December, aipac again holds its traveling “Let’s make War and spread anti-Muslim Fear” show in the Bay Area, including one such event right in Oakland on the evening of Dec 5. How many people can we get on the streets to protest these things? Will the Bay Areas self-described “liberal” politicians still flock to the aipac festivities? (Interestingly, aipac loves to boast about the *number* of elected officials that attend these things… but try to get them to name them publicly, that’s another matter). We need to keep building on this, and we will not let them forget their “victory”.

  8. justicewillprevail
    September 29, 2011, 1:52 pm

    The worldwide censorship of children continues in the UK. A children’s Palestinian literature festival in schools has been cancelled thanks to the usual threats and intimidation from the ‘British Board of Deputies’ (don’t you love that ludicrous name). So Palestinian children’s art and literature is so dangerous that it must be banned, in case it tells the tale of Palestinian life under the Israeli heel. And we can’t have children learning the truth.

    http://www.islingtontribune.com/news/2011/sep/anger-palestinian-festival-ban-schools

    As originally planned:
    http://tottpallitfest.org.uk/schools

  9. annie
    September 29, 2011, 4:35 pm

    great report henry, thanks so much for writing this up.

  10. maggielorraine
    September 29, 2011, 5:38 pm

    We’ve been talking about this in class all week. A few students who didn’t know much about the I/P conflict went and got an eye-full. I’m so excited that MECA is fighting back. I’m going to check the show out asap!

  11. Rusty Pipes
    September 29, 2011, 5:43 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on the OEA, Henry:

    In addition, Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association (the local teachers’ union), read a powerful letter, approved unanimously by the OEA executive boad, condemning the museum board’s decision to cancel the show. (Despite its name, MOCHA is mainly an art-in-the-schools program, so the teachers’ statement carries particular weight.)

    It’s a beautiful statement:

    I am writing on behalf of the Executive Board of the Oakland Education Association to express our deep disappointment over your decision to cancel “A Child’s View from Gaza” and deny the children of Gaza the right to share their experiences through artwork.

    As a long-time elementary teacher and current President of the OEA, I am well aware of the positive impact MOCHA has had in fostering creativity and artistic expression through children’s art. I have attended MOCHA trainings for teachers, worked with MOCHA in my own classroom, and observed your work in many other classrooms. Teachers have always been highly appreciative of the work that you do, especially in an era where test scores have unfortunately become a substitute for genuine learning and the creative arts are too often absent from our neediest students’ school experience. Especially in an urban district such as Oakland, it is critical that art continue to play a central role in allowing students to express their deepest fears, joys, and hopes for a different future.

    MOCHA has always been a place where all subjects are open to artistic expression. That is why it was logical that MOCHA would serve as the venue for the exhibition from Gaza. As past artwork has included many examples of the violence in children’s lives, the only conclusion we can draw to explain your decision to engage in such obvious censorship is the pressure being exerted by powerful organizations and individuals seeking to silence the voices of the Palestinian people. We are well aware of such pressure, having received our share of it when we condemned the murderous Israeli assault on Gaza several years ago. But we refused to allow that pressure to force a change in our core values, which include unreserved support for education around the issues facing children throughout the world.

    MOCHA has long been a place where the art of all children is valued and shared, not a place where some is censored. We urge you to abide by your own core values and mission. As stated in your Open Letter to the MOCHA Community of September 12, 2011, “The Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) was founded as a place where children from all backgrounds could come together to make and celebrate art. MOCHA provides a safe place for children to express themselves through art, and produces programs that are intended to foster insight and understanding.” That you have chosen not to allow a safe place for the often-ignored children of Gaza to share their art is a decision that will unfortunately scar your reputation and remain a deep disappointment to the many teachers who have supported you throughout your existence.

    Considering that, among Bay area communities, Oakland has one of the highest percentages of African American residents and that MOCHA is mostly an art in the schools program, a large number of Black children have been protected by MOCHA from exposure to confusing images from Gaza. They might start thinking about the occupation in terms of Jim Crow or Apartheid or just plain wrong.

    • annie
      September 29, 2011, 9:21 pm

      that’s an amazing letter rusty, thanks for bring it to our attention.

  12. dbroncos
    September 29, 2011, 6:42 pm

    The muzzling of Palestine’s side of Israel’s story is now having the opposite effect than the one intended by Zionists determined to manage any and all discussion of I/P. The noise they create in their efforts to silence criticism of Israel creates conflict and drama, draws more attention to the issues and hence a larger audience. Americans are sensitive to the blunt censorship tactics used against the Oakland museum. The rabbi spokesman of the group responsible for canceling the show explained on NPR that his concern was for the children who would see the works of art, that they might be traumatized by the violent content. I don’t think anyone bought his, “It’s not about me, it’s about the children” justifications. The rabbi may or may not love the children in attendance at MOCHA. However, he did make clear his contempt for the children of Gaza. Everything I heard him say plopped on the floor -a steaming, pungent lode. I think he offended the sensibilities of a lot of people who were listening to NPR on Sunday, including those who knew nothing about the exhibit before listening to his interview.

  13. annie
    September 29, 2011, 9:22 pm

    henry, did you update this article? i’m seeing a lot more links than i recall earlier. excellent!

  14. annie
    September 29, 2011, 10:00 pm

    here is the part 2 of your video from a zionist link interviewing a very thoughtful woman at the event. listen to how demeaning he is of her when she talks about the holidays coming up and her values. it’s an amazing video. i wonder if he even realized how much of a thug he appears.

    • Henry Norr
      September 30, 2011, 12:31 am

      That’s Kate Raphael, a friend and a longtime activist in QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism), Women In Black, the International Women’s Peace Service, the International Solidarity Movement, Direct Action to Stop the War, Act Against Torture, and lots more grassroots groups. Check out her blog at http://democracy-sometime.blogspot.com and Murder Under the Bridge, her online serial mystery set in Palestine, at http://murderunderthebridge.com.

      And no, Annie, I didn’t update this post – I guess you were just too bleary-eyed to notice some of the links when you read it last night or this morning. :-)

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