Breaking and tragic: The Missouri History Museum canceled a presentation on Ferguson and Palestine on the eve of the event scheduled for March 19, after being pressured by a local Jewish group to remove the Palestine part, emails released by Jewish Voice for Peace disclose.
The museum got pressure from the Jewish Community Relations Council “expressing dismay” over the presentation. A museum official promptly got in touch with the Washington University students who were putting it on. “Remove the Palestine group from the program or find another location,” she says she told the student group, according to an email.
The students refused to remove the Palestine portion. The presentation was titled “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action.” Ayotzinapa refers to the 43 students in Mexico who were kidnaped last September.
The museum is a publicly-funded institution, and the story is getting wide pickup in St. Louis. The St. Louis Post Dispatch: “History Museum pressured speakers panel to exclude Palestinian group, emails show.” The St. Louis Business Journal is also covering the story.
In a bizarre twist, the emails show that the museum’s education director Melanie Adams communicated with the local Anti-Defamation League about the program and sought the ADL’s help in coming up with a replacement exhibit about Palestine.
In light of the current situation, we would like to plan a program that looks at the history of Palestine and Israel. We would like to work with the ADL and the JCRC to put something together Is this something you are open to doing?
So the new proposed Israel/Palestine panel will have Palestinians handpicked by the JCRC and the ADL! And you wonder why our society has a skewed view of the conflict.
The museum has hosted controversial speakers before, including Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow.
Here is the press release from Jewish Voice for Peace in St. Louis:
Through a Sunshine request with the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace revealed that pressure from a Jewish Community Relations Council Executive Director Batya Abramson-Goldstein led to the museum’s last minute demand to exclude Palestine from a public dialogue on activism including Ferguson and Ayotzinapa.
Facing criticism for the censorship of Palestinian voices, the Missouri History Museum attributed the panel’s cancellation to miscommunication between Museum staff and event organizers. Panelists and partner organizations refused to break their coalition ties between people of color by removing Palestine from the event.
Organizers and community members rallied on the museum’s front steps in support of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee.
“I had absolutely no intent to silence you,” said Missouri History Museum President Frances Levine to St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee member Sandra Tamari before the rally in front of the museum.
The following day, the St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace officially submitted a Sunshine request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Missouri History Museum, requesting access to museum emails containing specific terms such as “JCRC.”
In a series of emails obtained, Abramson-Goldstein calls for the removal of Palestine from the panel; she wrote to Levine: “I am writing because I have been receiving emails and phone calls expressing dismay at the upcoming History Museum Program: Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action. I can understand the dismay.”
After the event’s cancellation, Abramson-Goldstein wrote to Levine “When you and I eventually have our breakfast/lunch/coffee we can look back at this incident as an illustration of a potentially damaging incident defused.”
Regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Karen Aroesty also expressed concern over the event when she wrote to Levine: “[I] wonder if you have contacted Metro PD to let them know you may need additional personnel.”
In a post from their website, The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee states “in [our] work to promote freedom, equality and justice in Palestine and Israel, we reaffirm our commitment to principles of anti-racism and anti-oppression… We stand opposed to Islamophobia, antiSemitism, all forms of racism, and any other expressions of bigotry directed at any person or group.”
“Our organization affirms that support of black struggle in Ferguson while at the same time supporting Jewish privilege in Israel are incompatible stances and must be rejected,” St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace member Maya Harris.
“When Ferguson started, I found it very interesting that the Anti-Defamation League, put out no fewer than three statements saying ‘don’t compare Ferguson and Palestine,’” Tamari says. “Our solidarity is obviously very powerful and people are scared of us joining forces. The event at the museum is just one example of how we are challenging the status quo.”
Here are some excerpts of the emails.
Batya Abramson-Goldstein of the JCRC to the museum’s director:
“I am writing because I have been receiving emails and phone calls expressing dismay at the upcoming History Museum Program: Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action.” I can understand the dismay. How should I reply to those asking why this event is being sponsored by the History Museum?”
Museum president Frances Levine responds:
“Thanks Batya for bringing this to my attention. Melanie [Adams, Managing Director of Community Education and Events] says she spoke to you and is back in touch with the students. This is not the program that she approved originally. She has given them some choices to bring the focus back where it was in Ferguson or to take the program back to their campus space. Not sure why they wanted it here anyway…”
Melanie Adams contacts Karen Aroesty at the ADL to brag about the censorship:
We cancelled a program brought to us by a wash u student group because they changed the content to include the St. Louis Palestine group talking about how they are similar to the movement in ferguson. We let them know we were not comfortable with this change.
Other internal emails show the museum knew it had a p.r. problem on its hands and tried to scramble:
The institution is open to presenting future programming related to the history of Israel and Palestine. Any future proposed programming on the
topic will be carefully organized and fully vetted.
A later museum statement denied the cancellation had anything to do with Palestine.
Our issue was never with talking about Palestine. The issue was with adding a third topic to the discussion. We asked the community partner to fulfill the original agreement or find another location.
We are completely open and interested in doing programming related Palestinian and Israeli history. Such a program might make sense in relation to an upcoming
Anna Baltzer of JVP wrote to the museum that she had always loved it, no more. Also from the emails:
As a Jewish St. Louisan, I was shocked to hear about the Missouri History Museum’s attempts to silence the St. Louis Palestinian community by shutting down the “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine” event if it included Palestinians. This is disgraceful behavior by a public institution and cannot be ignored. I urge you to reverse your discriminatory decision and reinstate the panel, and to issue a formal apology to the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the event organizers.
The Missouri History Museum was among my favorite places in St. Louis. I went there all the time, especially with guests and family from out of town. No longer.