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Friday, October 31, 2014

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Where is our advocacy?

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For two weeks in September, the Hamilton Public Library was home to an art exhibition titled A Child’s View from Gaza. Sponsored by the recognizably anti-Israel group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), the drawings, in their overall theme, mostly depict Israeli soldiers victimizing hapless Palestinian children.

When viewed without context, the images of the children’s evident suffering undoubtedly tug at the heartstrings. But the pathos reflected pictorially is only one aspect of what is so fundamentally troubling about the display. Even more damning is the extensive commentary accompanying each drawing – invoking the all too familiar canards that so often frame the attacks on Israel that we’ve come to expect from organizations like CJPME.

Whether the drawings themselves are the genuine creations of nine- to 11-year-olds has been called into question. What is indisputable, however, is that the offensive text surrounding the sketches is certainly not composed by children. Rather, it is the work of skilled propagandists intent on portraying the Israel Defence Forces, and, by association, Israelis and Jews in general, in the worst possible light.

When the exhibition opened in Hamilton, it was prominently placed near the library entrance, exposing it to the hundreds of library patrons who ordinarily visit the facility each day. Once this was reported to the public affairs committee (PAC) of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, a strongly worded letter was sent to the library administration, expressing the Jewish community’s concern and requesting removal of the pictures. Instead, the most that the library would accede to was a transfer of the display to a less conspicuous location on the library’s fourth floor. While this gesture was construed as meaningful, there are many in the Hamilton community who believe that a stronger position was needed.

An e-blast from PAC describing its intervention was far from reassuring.  Most disconcerting was PAC’s admission that its “preferred option was to remain silent at this time.” The reservation they expressed about taking the matter to the Hamilton Spectator was that any letters to the newspaper “would only invite more letters in response, most of which would come from the ‘other side’ and only give them the last word.” According to the e-blast, their position had the endorsement of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), who apparently agreed that the Hamilton federation “shouldn’t draw any more attention to this group or exhibit by going public against it.”

 Fortunately, there are individuals in the Hamilton community who have refused to remain silent. Some have had letters published in the Spectator and, yes, there have been the inevitable responses. There are also those who have directly confronted the library administration and demanded explanations – and they continue to do so.

And while the organized Jewish community chooses to ignore it, A Child’s View from Gaza has travelled across the country, likely influencing the perceptions of many thousands of Canadians who cannot reasonably be blamed for accepting a narrative that, though false, has gone unchallenged.

That fear of a reaction should be a guiding principle in how our local and national agencies conduct themselves is astonishing. Are we now to assume that sha shtill passivity has become an accepted cornerstone of Jewish advocacy?

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