The suppression of Palestine activism on American campuses is a well-documented phenomenon, with multiple Zionist organizations targeting students and faculty who organize for justice for Palestine, creating lists that vilify them as anti-Semites, threatening to destroy their careers and employment opportunities, and sometimes succeeding in doing so, in what has generally come to be known as The Palestine Exception to Free Speech.
Meanwhile, an equally hostile campaign is being waged against a simple children’s book, P is for Palestine, by Iranian-American author Golbarg Bashi, who has been subjected to hate mail, intimidation, and death threats, after the 2017 publication of her alphabet book, with its cheerful celebration of Palestinian culture. “A” is for Arabic, “B” is for Bethlehem, “F” is for falafel, the book informs young children, and, most controversially, “I” is for Intifada, with the explanation ““Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what’s right, if you are a kid or a grown up!” Public libraries and private bookstores where she held readings came under attack, even as she was maligned as a viciously hate-filled anti-Semite. Uniformed member of the Jewish Defense League, classified as an armed right-wing terrorist group by the FBI, tried to intimidate and physically harass children going to the only reading she had in Manhattan–a reading organized by anti-Zionist Jews.
In the meantime, Bashi perseveres. Her latest reading, at the Highland Park Library in New Jersey, on Sunday, October 20, was met with intense opposition, as Bashi and the library hosting her were threatened with legal action for “violation of federal law, including the anti-discrimination provisions of the civil rights acts,” as well as the ludicrous charge of “aiding and abetting terrorism,” because, according to the threatened lawsuit, the reading is promoted by two groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and Samidoun, which are said to “provide support to terror organizations.”
With a crowd of Zionist protestors forming a cordon around the library, Bashi had to enter the library through the backdoor, under heavy police escort, and numerous police officers were stationed at the door as she read from the colorful book. To ensure there would be no hostile crowds jam-packing the library room, pre-registration had been a requirement, and restricted to Highland Park library card-holding children, accompanied by one parent only. Nevertheless, the library director suspected many of the registrants were bogus, so as to allow hecklers and opponents in, instead of genuinely eager children.
That tense reading itself was scheduled as an alternative date to an earlier reading, initially scheduled for May 18, which had to be shelved when members of the Highland Park community rose up in opposition to it. According to the New Jersey Jewish News, “After Bashi’s reading was first announced, the ensuing firestorm attracted the attention of the Zionist Organization of America and the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association (AMA). The AMA contacted library officials and said it wasn’t appropriate to cancel an event because of perceived legal or financial implications. The library also received a letter signed by the New Jersey ACLU, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, and Palestine Legal informing the library they considered a cancellation unconstitutional, an indication that cancelling the reading could prompt a legal challenge.”
Indeed, it was only after receiving the letters from these civil rights groups that the Library acquiesced to rescheduling the reading, out of fear of legal repercussions. Now, the October 20 reading is being challenged as a violation of the federal anti-discrimination laws (Title VI), and the library, along with Basha, are threatened with further legal action because the book is promoted by Jewish Voice for Peace, and Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Solidarity Network. A October 4 letter from Marc Greendorfer, attorney at Zachor, explains that the anti-BDS legal think tank will take action against the library and borough of Highland Park for hosting the event. According to Zachor’s website, their primary focus is opposing BDS, but “Since there is a wide overlap between BDS and terrorist organizations in terms of objectives and methods, Zachor scholarship is also used in the anti-terrorism realm.”
“Based on the information we have received, two of the primary promoters of the reading, Samidoun and Jewish Voice for Peace, have ties to organizations that are discriminatory and provide support to terror organizations. Consequently, we believe the reading constitutes a violation of the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”), as well as a potential violation of 18 U.S.C. 2339B (the “Material Support Statute”). … In as much as the Highland Park Library is federally funded, should the library proceed with this reading we will file a complaint with the Department of Education for violating the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI,” wrote Greendorfer.
“The book is basically banned,” Bashi told me. “Bookstores are afraid of stocking it, because of the physical intimidation their staff and management will face, and the protests that will be staged once word is out that they are carrying these books.” During “Banned Books Week,” an event held every year during the last week of September to celebrate freedom to read, Bashi posted on social media that Barnes and Noble, which has a display of once-banned books, refuses to stock her books. Bashi says she tried for two years to have the Barnes and Noble chain stock her book, to no avail, hence her comment on the hypocrisy of their celebration of formerly “Banned Books.” Similarly, the independent New York bookstore chain Book Culture had to issue a groveling apology after stocking the book, with the owner, Chris Doeblin saying that the last time the store faced such threats was decades ago, after Iran issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses. With the refusal of brick-and-mortar bookstores to carry her titles, Bashi had to resort to selling it strictly online.
P is for Palestine is currently out of stock, with plans to do an additional printing soon. In the meantime, Bashi’s second Palestine-related children’s book, Counting up the Olive Tree, is available exclusively through the Palestine Online Store.