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Sunday, December 28, 2014

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Hamilton library exhibit sparks controversy

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From the CJPME exhibit shown in Hamilton

HAMILTON — The Hamilton Jewish community was divided recently over a response to an anti-Israel exhibit at the Hamilton Public Library’s central branch.

Sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), the exhibit – titled “A Child’s View from Gaza” – features 26 drawings “by Gaza children from five to 14 years of age, created during the course of art therapy.”

The Hamilton Jewish Federation appealed to the library in a formal letter to cancel the exhibit, then said it was satisfied when the display was moved to a less conspicuous area.

But some local activists were not.

“I think they could have mobilized the community or tried legally to shut it down. Then maybe next time around, it wouldn’t happen,” said Hamilton resident Gary Gerofsky. “I would like to see activism. There is none in this country, I don’t think, except in small pockets.”

Gerofsky said many people have even questioned the validity of the claim the art was done by children, noting its sophistication.

The exhibit was on display from Sept. 14 to 29, with a special reception held Sept. 22. The exhibit is now at the city’s Centenary United Church, to be followed for two weeks at another as-yet-unconfirmed Hamilton venue.

Lorne Finkelstein, chair of the federation’s public relations committee, called the library’s response the “best outcome without raising this into the public spectrum.”

“We thought that if we do bring this to the media or write letters to the Hamilton Spectator, they would print other letters, and the other side would get the last word,” he said.

Finkelstein said he had a “very productive” discussion with Hamilton’s chief librarian, Paul Takala, who promised the library would display an exhibit sponsored by the federation.

“Some have suggested including posters of the ravages of terrorism. But that just perpetuates the cycle,” Finkelstein said. “Why not include images of love, humanity and goodwill to others? Isn’t that a much nicer view to show the public?”

In his letter to the library, Finkelstein, a cardiologist, noted that several months ago the library had rejected an exhibit sponsored by Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), a group of Israeli pediatric cardiac surgeons and nurses who volunteer to provide free surgical care to non-Israeli patients.

“Our federation sponsored an evening to show the photo display…at Beth Jacob Synagogue,” Finkelstein wrote. “We raised $30,000 and were able to sponsor the care for three children. Our committee chose children from Gaza, the West Bank and from Ethiopia. We used the Beth Jacob facility, because the Hamilton Public Library told me that their facilities aren’t used for such political events!”

Finkelstein suggested bringing back the SACH exhibit or finding another positive one.

Takala, who took over as library chief this past spring, said he had no knowledge of Finkelstein approaching the library regarding the SACH display.

Takala said he told Finkelstein that he had concerns about cancelling the CJPME exhibit, because of the library’s contract with the group.

He said that when the CJPME exhibit arrived, it included photos that had not been approved by the library. Takala said those were removed immediately.

The exhibit was on the first floor during the city’s Art Crawl event and then moved up to the fourth floor. It was moved downstairs to a private room for a Sept. 22 CJPME reception and then returned to the fourth floor.

“It was representing one perspective in a conflict. We look for other perspectives to be represented in the future,” Takala said. “As a library, we present a variety of viewpoints. If we have a book that people don’t agree with, we don’t take it out of the library. We just make sure we have other books that represent the other side of that viewpoint.

“I look forward to working with the Hamilton Jewish Federation in the future.”

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