The cancellation of a planned exhibit of artwork by Palestinian youth at the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland is a shameful act of an educational and cultural institution submitting to pressure from vocal political interest groups. It is also a flagrant betrayal of core free speech principles.
The artwork, which depicts children’s perspectives on the Israeli assault during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict, was scheduled to go on display Sept. 24, but, after several months of planning, was cancelled just two weeks before the opening.
Conflict in the Middle East frequently causes controversy: just last May, CUNY denied an honorary degree to celebrated playwright Tony Kushner because of his views on the conflict. After an explosion of outrage the decision was reversed. The reversal notwithstanding, the CUNY controversy confirms a pattern in which open, critical discussion of Middle East politics is consistently silenced and criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is demonized as anti-Semitic.
In an incident similar to the one in Oakland, in 2006 Brandeis University took down “Voices from Palestine,” an exhibition of art work by teens from Palestinian refugee camps, curated by an Israeli student, who had conceived the exhibition as a way to redress what she perceived as the lack of Palestinian voices on campus. Four days into the two-week exhibition, school administrators removed the artwork, claiming that it “confused” and “upset” some students.
Disagreement on Middle East politics is likely to spark the most passionate of political feelings today. However, suppressing artwork about the experiences of children – always the innocent victims of conflicts between adults – will not only make a mockery of our cherished core values of free speech, but will fail to use a teachable moment to educate a new generation about the pain of war, wherever it happens.
Here is the whole story of the cancellation.