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Evanston Public Library censors Ali Abunimah, saying issue is ‘complex’ and he’d need to be balanced (Updated)

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Ali Abunimah's new book is titled The Battle For Justice In Palestine.

Ali Abunimah’s new book is titled The Battle For Justice In Palestine.

 Update:

The Evanston Public Library issued a public statement saying that it “mishandled” rescheduling the program and that they value standards of free speech, though they did not provide a reason for why they cancelled the event. The Library reached out to Mr. Abunimah, who recently tweeted that the event is now back on for August 11.

Original Post:

I am a life-long member of the Evanston Public Library. I was raised on library story-times and I wrote my first book reports within those walls. The librarians helped teach me how to research and write papers on revolutions, colonialism, the civil rights movement.

I was shocked and angered to hear the news this morning that the Evanston Public Library, my library, cancelled a scheduled talk on August 11 by Ali Abunimah about his book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

Mr. Abunimah is a Palestinian-American journalist and a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. His book discusses the failure of the two-state solution and explores the future of the movement for justice in Palestine.

I immediately called to inquire as to why the event was cancelled. I was told that the director of the library had determined that, since they were unable to schedule a pro-Israeli author to speak this fall, they would not move forward with Mr. Abunimah’s talk.

This decision reveals a nasty truth of how Palestine and Israel are discussed in the United States. The issue of Palestinian human rights is seen as not just political, but taboo. It is viewed, as the Evanston Public Library tweeted this morning, as a “complex issue”. Too complex, it would appear, to discuss.

The library chose to silence Mr. Abunimah’s opinion based on a simplistic notion of ‘balance’. I wonder if it would have cancelled a talk from someone who wrote a book on global warming if they couldn’t also schedule someone who would argue that it doesn’t exist. Or if they would prevent someone from speaking on the need for gun control if they couldn’t also have a pro-NRA author on the calendar.

I am ashamed that my library has denied Mr. Abunimah, and his audience, the opportunity for public conversation. Mr. Abunimah’s talk would have undoubtedly drawn people who both agree and disagree with his point of view. The resulting discussion would have been a healthy opportunity for the Evanston community to engage with one another. Now, more than ever, we should be encouraging one another to speak openly about our opinions on this issue, not to stay huddled in the shadows for fear of how our neighbors will respond.

It is not too late for the library to reverse this disappointing decision. I sincerely hope that they will.

Ali Abunimah has written about this incident at EI, describing it as a “politically-motivated and blatant act of censorship.” –Editor

Beth Miller
About Beth Miller

Beth Miller is a program coordinator at an international law non-profit. She lived in the West Bank for a year and a half, working on child rights and the rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. She received her M.A. in Human Rights Law from the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. You can follow her on Twitter at @bethavedon

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42 Responses

  1. just
    just on August 3, 2014, 12:35 pm

    Perhaps someone could ask Rahm if he had anything to do with this shameful censorship.

    • piotr
      piotr on August 3, 2014, 12:47 pm

      I guess that Rahm is not responsible, as he does not live in Evanston, but Chicago.

      However, Evanston is a home of the proud North Western University with many very fine program like Kellog School of Business Management with a nice program of Rabbinical Management (one of the advisors of that program is Rabbi Joseph-Seth Kirshner, a religious leader in NYC, see link below), so it is sad that no learned Zionist offer to give a talk at the city library.

      http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/israel-leader-rabbis.html

      I would invite Rav Joseph-Seth and ask him how his position differs from the demand of another Rabbi, Noam Perel, to wash Israeli hands in blood of revenge and go beyond “collecting 300 Philistine foreskins”.

      • just
        just on August 3, 2014, 12:54 pm

        piotr– thanks for that.

        *Rahm is a graduate of Evanston School of Ballet and Northwestern.

      • traintosiberia
        traintosiberia on August 3, 2014, 9:31 pm

        I am not at all surprised to hear about the Rabbanical Management of financing and business section as part of Kellog School of Business being offered by North Western to students.
        There is no cry about Sharia infiltration now !Hardly anyone knows about the existence of this section . One wonders where else this is being offered . NYPD uses Israeli program. CIA uses Israeli program. Interrogation manual in Iraq and Guantanamo were based on Israeli program. American airport security is modeled after Israeli program.

  2. Justpassingby
    Justpassingby on August 3, 2014, 12:42 pm

    actually its worse,
    from the link above:

    “Originally, the event had been scheduled for 4 August, but it was changed to 11 August at the request of Williams because the original date coincides with the eve of the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, which in Jewish belief commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.”

  3. Justpassingby
    Justpassingby on August 3, 2014, 12:47 pm

    Email Mrs. Lyons at [email protected] to express your thoughts on this!

    • Clif Brown
      Clif Brown on August 4, 2014, 1:10 am

      Thanks for the email address. I am an Evanston Public Library user and have just sent Mrs. Lyons my thoughts on this transparent attempt to prevent Ali Abunimah from making his very reasonable presentation (which I have heard at another venue).

  4. John Turnbull
    John Turnbull on August 3, 2014, 1:18 pm

    Your counter-examples, the subjects of global warming and gun control, are certainly true. But I think it may also be fair to say that the library would schedule a presentation supporting the point of view of the Israeli government, if not the Likud Party itself, by any spare Zionist who happened to have an evening free, and would do so without a second thought.

    The minimal challenge we should be making is that public institutions that shun speech supporting human rights in Palestine must match their Zionists — liberal or otherwise — with people like Ali.

    I had to laugh, last year, when I was told by a family member that a community near Boston was required to “balance” Peter Beinhart with Alan Dershowitz on the subject of rights and statehood Palestinians.

  5. Ron Edwards
    Ron Edwards on August 3, 2014, 1:25 pm

    At last, something I can do locally.

    • chocopie
      chocopie on August 3, 2014, 2:03 pm

      It would be great if he could give his talk outside the library. What a statement that would make.

  6. Boomer
    Boomer on August 3, 2014, 1:29 pm

    Actually, as we know, the problem isn’t all that complex . . . but obfuscation is.

  7. Kay24
    Kay24 on August 3, 2014, 1:34 pm

    Isn’t it strange how the balance is not question when it slants towards the zionist’s narrative. Then it is ALL fine.

  8. James Canning
    James Canning on August 3, 2014, 1:42 pm

    Bravo. Suppressing free speech in the US, on issue of Israel/Palestine, is basic strategy of elements of the Israel lobby.

  9. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    Maximus Decimus Meridius on August 3, 2014, 1:51 pm

    It’s only ever with Palestine that discussions have to be ‘balanced’. If the library invited, say, a pro-abortion activist to speak about her new book, would they also feel obliged to ‘balance’ her with an anti-abortion speaker? I doubt it. This is an author discussing his book in a library. It’s not a debate.

  10. Philip Munger
    Philip Munger on August 3, 2014, 2:22 pm

    My letter to the Evanston Library’s Director:

    Director Karen Danczak Lyons,

    I was informed this morning that you have decided to cancel the upcoming book event featuring Ali Abunimah, who was to talk about his recent work, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. In a Saturday tweet from Evanston Public Library’s Twitter account, it was announced that “We will reschedule Ali Abunimah’s talk. With this complex issue, we now plan to schedule more speakers on other dates too.” Apparently, the author found out about this cancellation through social media, rather than by a courtesy call from you or your staff.

    On May 28th, I hosted Mr. Abunimah at Firedoglake’s weekly Book Salon. The book salon’s editor understood that the book raises “complicated” questions, yet saw no need to cancel the author’s appearance or to “schedule more speakers” for some reason or another, to balance or offset what Mr. Abunimah has written about, or might have written in his salon comments.

    Mr. Abunimah is a compelling writer, journalist and commentator. I hope you are aware that in his many appearances over the past few months to speak or write about his book, no credible person has raised a single issue claiming Mr. Abunimah’s book is questionable in terms of accuracy, veracity or content.

    To have cancelled this important voice on such a timely issue appears to me – and to a host of others – as blatant, perhaps even craven censorship. The method of letting the word out on this cancellation through social media before ensuring the author had been informed should be held up as a sterling example of unprofessional behavior on your part, or on that of your staff.

    Sincerely,

    Philip Munger

  11. adele
    adele on August 3, 2014, 3:13 pm

    My lord, we have so moved beyond the “balance” approach when it comes to Israel/Palestine. That was like so yesterday. We are in the digital age for heaven’s sake. But let the gatekeepers indulge in this fantasy if they think that it will make a difference in obfuscating Israel’s criminal record. Go for it, schedule the “balancing” act, the blatant facts that can no longer be hidden will still speak for themselves.

  12. Palikari
    Palikari on August 3, 2014, 3:38 pm

    The book has not beet censored, and the talk has not been permanently cancelled but POSTPONED.

    • chocopie
      chocopie on August 3, 2014, 3:41 pm

      Postponed is censored. They want to postpone it until they can dig up some Zionist to try to refute it. That’s censorship.

      • Palikari
        Palikari on August 3, 2014, 10:48 pm

        Since when “censored” and “postponed” are synonyms?

        Wow! Are you afraid of a Zionist challenging your narrative? That’s not censorship, that’s DEBATE.

    • Philip Munger
      Philip Munger on August 3, 2014, 4:03 pm

      If it has been “postponed,” to what date has it been moved, Palikari? And – if you were to “postpone” an author’s appearance at your library, would you inform her or him directly before posting the “postponement” on twitter?

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976 on August 3, 2014, 4:12 pm

        Unagreed and indefinite postponement is of course a form of cancellation, ie the tearing up of the existing agreement.

    • just
      just on August 3, 2014, 5:09 pm

      Proof, “Palikari”.

      (So gratifying to watch the desperate attempts of the hasbarists fail)

    • traintosiberia
      traintosiberia on August 3, 2014, 7:57 pm

      Next Israeli invasion has been postponed . Blockade has been redefined .

  13. frankier
    frankier on August 3, 2014, 4:19 pm

    I do not think that a pro Palestine speaker is required to have a pro Israel speaker? Is it?
    Just follow the money… who are the major donors of this library?

  14. just
    just on August 3, 2014, 5:46 pm

    Lookie here– censorship run amok:

    “Coalition Chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) wants Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy put on trial for treason, following articles he wrote in the course of Operation Protective Edge.

    “Gideon Levy is the lowest kind of provocateur,” Levin told Channel 2 Saturday evening. “When someone who lives among you turns himself into an enemy mouthpiece, while spreading lies, out of the hope that this will undermine your ability to wage war – this is called, in simple Hebrew, ‘treason’.

    “Levy writes the enemy’s lies in an Israeli newspaper, and then these writings are quoted all over the entire world as if they were written by Israelis, and as if they reflect a reality that is supposedly objective,” he explained.

    “In no other country would anyone have published the evil screeds he writes, and I believe that [in other countries,] legal proceedings would have been initiated against him – proceedings of the kind that are initiated against people who harm the soldiers even as they charge forward.

    “It is time we stop regarding despicable phenomena like this with tolerance,” MK Levin added. “My statement is not harsh. What is harsh and grave is behaving like this at a time like this, when we see the difficult prices we are paying, and how difficult the struggle we are waging is.”

    Haaretz has reportedly hired bodyguards for Levy, who aroused anger recently when he penned a provocative article in which he accused IAF pilots of murdering innocents.”

    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/183678#.U96rk2NZivk

    Israel is shredding everything.

    • a blah chick
      a blah chick on August 3, 2014, 6:46 pm

      Levin is the same dude who said that Palestinian Christains are not Arabs.

      Israel is now a toxic mix of Germany in the thirties and pre Civil War America.

    • piotr
      piotr on August 3, 2014, 6:52 pm

      “In no other country would anyone have published the evil screeds he writes…”

      Sometimes I think that the knowledge of the outside world among Israeli Zionists is limited to Egypt and Belorus.

      • just
        just on August 3, 2014, 7:16 pm

        Are they being deliberately obtuse?

      • piotr
        piotr on August 3, 2014, 7:27 pm

        I have to check the dictionary, I know that there are obtuse triangles, but nothing about deliberately obtuse. So let us see

        annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand.
        “he wondered if the doctor was being deliberately obtuse”
        synonyms: stupid, slow-witted, slow, dull-witted, unintelligent, ignorant, simpleminded, witless;

        This is subtle. Let us settle on the fact that they are obtuse, and leave it open if this is deliberate or not.

      • just
        just on August 3, 2014, 7:35 pm

        OK!
        Israel’s fascism is on full display. ‘Democracy’ is nowhere in sight.

    • traintosiberia
      traintosiberia on August 3, 2014, 8:04 pm

      Freedom of expression has been curbed by legislation- Campus Watch , banning of Students meetings,and voting , books removed from library ( France, Canada , US or demands made ) ,authors been hounded out of town ( as Truman was threatened by rabbi) , websites censored and investigated, and speakers physically attacked – and all of those done to prevent a different increasingly emerging opinion on an issue that have been dominated until now by the one sanctioned by Israel.

      So many famous men and some women joined in denouncing the banning of book by Salmon Rushdie. But one does not hear much from them now.

    • Marnie
      Marnie on August 4, 2014, 7:45 am

      MK Levin is a coward. Thank you Mr. Levy for trying to tell the truth.

  15. Rooster
    Rooster on August 3, 2014, 6:40 pm

    Link to Evanston Public Library’s Board of Trustees and contact info:
    http://www.epl.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=110&Itemid=208

    Of note, December 2010, EPL apparently had an event titled “Israel and Palestine: a Historical Overview,” given by Joel Finkel, of Jewish Voice For Peace (though I see no evidence that there was a competing narrative delivered). It does suggest inconsistency in a demand for a competing viewpoint, although one would hope that in the 2010 event, Mr. Finkel was delivering a positive message consistent with JvP’s history.
    See http://evanstonnow.com/event/speakers/10-dec-11/israel-and-palestine-a-historical-overview

    See also https://afsc.org/event/israel-and-palestine-historical-overview

    Note also Evanston Public Library’s website features a “Homework Guide” on the Arab-Israeli conflict, with a recommended reading list, which I think, actually, is quite good. Note first title on the list is by Mr. Abunimah.
    See http://www.epl.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=2050:arab-israeli-conflict&Itemid=246

    Also, note EPL appears to have sponsored an event featuring Rabbi Rosen, author of “Wrestling In The Daylight – A Rabbi’s Path To Palestinian Solidarity” ( http://www.amazon.com/Wrestling-Daylight-Rabbis-Palestinian-Solidarity/dp/1935982222 ).
    See http://www.cityofevanston.org/assets/EPL-Annual-Report-4%202%2013.pdf

    So it seems like, if anything, the EPL has a tradition of challenging the mainstream notions wrt the IP conflict, which makes the handling of this situation all the more puzzling to me.

    I could not find from their website an event involving an author promoting their book wherein a second speaker was brought in to give a competing viewpoint.

    That’s not to say it isn’t there. I just couldn’t find it.

    But, once again, the EPL does NOT seem to be carrying a torch for Zionism from what I could find.

    Strange.

    • traintosiberia
      traintosiberia on August 3, 2014, 10:12 pm

      Thanks for the information.

    • Xpat
      Xpat on August 3, 2014, 11:35 pm

      The two distinctions that are apparent are: a. Ali Abunima would have been the first Palestinian at the library, rather than Jews talking about Palestinians and b. the war on Gaza has made this a very touchy issue.
      If I were writing a letter, I wouldn’t bother with the library director. Write Mayor Tisdahl.

  16. Curatica
    Curatica on August 3, 2014, 7:50 pm

    I would dispute another reader’s comment about the lack of “democracy” in Israel. Netanyahu was “democratically” elected, and reelected.

    And the immense majority of Israeli Jews “democratically” support the slaughter.

    The “democratically” elected US Congress gave the child murderer 29 standing ovations.

    So, maybe there is something fundamentally rotten in this notion of “democracy”….

    • traintosiberia
      traintosiberia on August 3, 2014, 10:23 pm

      http://www.unz.com/anapolitano/what-if-democracy-is-a-fraud// an interesting piece.

      On snother vein-Rest of the world progressed through class struggles and internecine fights to gradually gravitate to democracy . Even in Arab world,the mob always sought democratic framework. Their job in unfinished and is anticipated to continue to try .
      America has been a settlers nation that has exported its internal tension abroad from the days of 13 colony declared independence first to outlying areas or Wild West then overseas . It is still doing it has manufactured enemies to rally people and forget the internal tension. Native blacks,Mexican,Naxi,Communism,,Islam,and now Putin s Russia and expansionist China.
      This time it might be different . This time America might be forced to look inside and embrace isolationism to defuse and guide the internal tension productively . Alternately it can continue old habit but chances of repeating past successes is remote .US is seething with internal tensions long many fault lines.

  17. piotr
    piotr on August 3, 2014, 8:00 pm

    I did not mention Belorus as a joke. This country had many centers of Jewish learning like Slonim, and many Israeli Jewish sages continue and expand those backward traditions (they are called Lithuanians for obvious reasons, Belorus formed the bulk of Grand Duchy of Lithuania). More recently, it was a vacation destination of Avigdor Lieberman, who even has bank account there (accounts?), and it seems when Lieberman was investigated for corruption, much to his relief the Belorus authorities insisted on banking secrecy and thus all suspicions that he received corrupt payments remain unproven. And this is the only European country and did not join European human rights accord, and which has a very restrictive regulations of NGOs that Israeli right wing strives to copy. Similar restrictions are in Egypt, and Israeli (center to right, perhaps) clearly admire the current fascist government there.

  18. PeaceThroughJustice
    PeaceThroughJustice on August 4, 2014, 2:15 am

    This is already being discussed on the library’s facebook page. Here’s a good one. (Note the ever-present reliance on “antisemitism” as explanatory principle. It’s like catnip to a cat.)–

    Thanks to Director Lyons for canceling this program. The rantings posted on the Library’s website in response to the cancelation are an indication of why the Electronic Intifada should not be allowed to present it’s one sided anti-Semitic propaganda without the presence of another speaker to challenge the fabrications so often found on EI’s website.
    https://www.facebook.com/evanstonpubliclibrary

  19. michelle
    michelle on August 4, 2014, 3:19 am

    .
    there’s nothing complex about racist bigoted anti-semitic actions
    this establishment might want to re think this choice
    on the grounds that it’s illegal
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

  20. RoRiegle
    RoRiegle on August 4, 2014, 9:18 am

    All Evanston residents should write and call both the Mayor and the Director of the Library, Karen Lyons, to protest this egregious denial of free speech. Neighbors for Peace, who co-sponsored the program with the library, learned of the cancellation only second-hand. They will try to meet with the library early this week and ask your support in convincing the library to rescind its censorship. We need to unite to defend free speech!

  21. Goyjim
    Goyjim on August 4, 2014, 8:52 pm

    Now that the library has reversed its cancellation, it would be good if Abunimah were to tell those in charge to go screw themselves; someone would probably be willing to host an event where he could speak elsewhere on that day instead.

    Speaking of Abunimah, I haven’t received the copy of his book that I selected as a gift when I (too impulsively) donated to MW last month. It’s a shame, since I was planning to donate the book to a library in my own area.

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