Anti-Palestinian groups fail to censor children’s book event

A painting of a man holding his child, from the book with the text "I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!"

A page from P is for Palestine by Golbarg Bashi

Toddlers and their families will be able to attend a book event at a New Jersey public library despite attempts by Israel supporters and an anti-Palestinian lawmaker to censor the book and its author in recent weeks.

The reading and author signing for P is for Palestine, an alphabet book that celebrates Palestinian heritage and culture, had been the target of an aggressive smear campaign by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn assemblyman who has ties to extremist right-wing groups.

The event at the Highland Park library, sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, was originally scheduled for 19 May but was canceled by the library’s administration after complaints from Israel supporters.

On Tuesday evening, the library’s board of trustees announced that the event will go forward and author Golbarg Bashi will be able to read from her book.

However, the library also announced it would plan an event around the alphabet book I is for Israel – an apparent attempt to promote a false equivalence narrative only applied to Palestinians.

Silencing speech

Following the cancellation last month, civil rights groups and Palestine rights activists rallied around the right to hold an event celebrating the Palestinian experience.

More than 6,000 people signed a petition urging the library to “reject this racist attack on free speech” and immediately reinstate the book event.

Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union warned the library that caving in to censorship violates the constitution and “harms all community members.”

“Though P is for Palestine is simply a picture book that introduces toddlers to Palestinian words and experiences, the motivation behind the attacks on the book is part of a broader campaign to silence speech that is seen as supportive of the movement for Palestinian rights,” the groups stated.

Hikind and the ZOA claimed that the images and words in the children’s book – notably, the word “intifada” – promote violence and murder of Jews.

“Groups like the ZOA frequently try to silence support for Palestinian rights by falsely portraying it as an attack on Jewish identity,” Palestine Legal stated.

Hikind has a long history of involvement in the Jewish Defense League, a violent anti-Palestinian group whose US branch was founded by the racist rabbi Meir Kahane.

Hikind also has a history of anti-Black racism, defending his decision in 2013 to wear a deeply offensive blackface costume to a Purim party.

A supporter of censorship, Hikind led the charge to shut down a Palestine solidarity event at Brooklyn College in 2013.

“Strong community defense”

Last year, a New York City bookstore that sold P is for Palestine faced threats of violence from Israel supporters before it caved in to demands to sign a statement repudiating the nonviolent BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement for Palestinian rights.

Jewish Voice for Peace said on Wednesday that the reinstatement of the event is due to a “strong community defense” and shows that there is a “vibrant and growing Jewish community that supports Palestinian human rights and the telling of Palestinian stories.”

While Palestine rights supporters are glad that the library has rescheduled the event, it “never should have been canceled in the first place,” said Radhika Sainath, senior staff attorney with Palestine Legal.

“Children have the right to hear about Palestinian culture without fear of government censorship.”

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When Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind posted that photo in 2013 of himself in blackface and wig, he retorted to his critics that they didn’t understand the tradition of Purim. This tactic was echoed by New York Sen. Charles Schumer more recently, when he informed the AIPAC Conference that the reason Palestinians continue to resist Israel is that “they don’t believe in the Torah”. When offered outside the narrowing circle of Zionist devotion, such rhetoric is likely to prove less than persuasive.
On a brighter note, it’s encouraging to see the Highland Park library reversing its indefensible ban on this book- even if they also have chosen to host a pro-Israel event in the interest of “balance”. As a matter of fact, staging a presentation which is itself a political response to “P is for Palestine” will only serve to focus more attention on Golbarg Bashi’s book and its message. So well done to the ZOA and Assemblyman Hikind.

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