Hate art causes furor in Hamilton
September 25, 2012 | Atara Beck - Israel Correspondent
HAMILTON – Last week, Hamilton Jewish Federation (HJF) and a number of Jewish community activists from the local Never Again Group (NAG) were feeling victorious that a vehemently anti-Israel exhibit at Hamilton Public Library – on display from Sept. 14-29, including a special reception on Sat., Sept. 22, for which invitations were sent out – was moved from the main area upstairs to the fourth floor.
However, the exhibit was back on the main floor in time for the reception.
Sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), the exhibit – A Child’s View from Gaza – features 26 drawings “by Gaza children from 5 to 14 years of age, created during the course of art therapy.”
A number of experts have questioned the validity of the claim that the art, which demonizes Israel, was done by children, noting its sophistication.
Dr. Lorne Finkelstein, chair of HJF’s public relations committee, had appealed to the library to cancel the exhibit immediately, but the fact that it was moved to a less conspicuous area seemed to be enough to placate him as well as several NAG members.
“I am pleased that activism this week against CJPME’s display at the Hamilton library has met with some success,” NAG member Stuart Laughton said. “The Hamilton Jewish Federation and the Never Again Group can jointly claim credit.”
One person the compromise did not satisfy was Gary Gerofsky, a long-time NAG member who resigned “in order to pursue independent activism.” He sent a letter to the editor of The Spectator, the local Hamilton newspaper, which was published on Saturday.
“The library has a decision to make,” he wrote. “Become a free-for-all for all manner of political crackpots or maintain their dignity as a focal point of the community.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday, word got out that the exhibit had been moved back down to the main floor in time for Saturday’s reception. Furthermore, when the library stint is over, the exhibit will continue for two weeks at Centenary United Church, to be followed for another two weeks at another as-yet-unconfirmed Hamilton venue.
“There is never an easy answer as to how is the best way to respond when these situations come up,” Sandra Wilson, community relations coordinator for Hamilton Police Services, who reviewed the exhibit upon Finkelstein’s request, said before the exhibit was moved back to the main floor. “Where it is right now, you’d have to search for it. If you don’t know about it, you won’t come across it.”
In an email blast last week, Dr. Finkelstein said that the HJF public relations committee’s “preferred option was to remain silent at this time,” instead of going to the media.
“Daily media was exposing the horrendous violence Muslims in Middle East countries were perpetrating. They were creating such a negative impression with their violent response that we thought it was better to let the media focus on that, even locally, rather than attract attention locally to CJPME. Perry [Romberg, HJF’s acting executive director] did contact CIJA for their views, and they agreed…we shouldn’t draw any more attention to this group or the exhibit by going public against it…. Let them basically damage their own reputation without our getting involved.”
Although the media was not contacted, Dr. Finkelstein took Laughton’s suggestion to send a letter of protest to the library. In that letter, Dr. Finkelstein, a cardiologist, noted that several months ago the library had rejected an exhibit sponsored by Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), a small group of Israeli pediatric cardiac surgeons and nurses who for 10 years have volunteered their time and expertise to provide free surgical care for non-Israeli patients.
“Our federation sponsored an evening to show the photo display…at Beth Jacob Synagogue,” Dr. 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! Yet your library has chosen to display the hate-filled photos with unilateral depictions sponsored by a hate-filled group….
“Allowing this display is in stark contrast to refusing to allow the SACH display, an exhibit demonstrating love and humanity and sharing of skills and resources to help others, regardless of their religion or nationality.”
Later, Dr. Finkelstein and the chief librarian “had a very productive talk for about 30 minutes,” he told the community in his email blast.
“After reviewing my letter, the library moved all the children’s art to the fourth floor, where it is not as prominently displayed. He told me that he had concerns about cancelling the exhibit now, as we requested, because of the contract with CJPME. He was concerned that CJPME might take action against the library…. [H]e admitted he had never heard of CJPME before.
“…. He just doesn’t want to draw attention to them now by cancelling the art display prematurely. However, he also had no knowledge of my approaching the library months ago about the SACH photo display….
“While some in our community may be more strident and believe that we should have demanded the art work be cancelled immediately, I felt that the chief librarian was being reasonable…. I plan to contact SACH to see if they’d be willing to bring their exhibit back to Hamilton….”
“I liked that Lorne Finkelstein wrote to the library, but not the way he handled it afterwards,” NAG member Steven Werner said. “CIJA’s concurrence with them [HJF] about saying nothing…is cowardly and stupid. I think that after a few thousand years of history, we should have learned that the only thing that happens when Jews say nothing in the face of hatred is [that] Jew-hatred grows.”
Werner wrote to Antonella Giancarlo, the library’s communications officer, who responded, “The library has reviewed the exhibit and does not agree with those who suggest it promotes hatred. We welcome those who are critical of the exhibit to view it. Feedback and comments on the exhibit are welcome. All comments will be passed to CJPME, who have assured us they will review the feedback.”
Last year, in Oakland, CA, a similar exhibit was cancelled. According to FresnoZionism.org, the one-sided, political content was inappropriate and it was highly unlikely that the drawings were created by children.
Gerofsky also questioned the suitability of a SACH exhibit in response to the current display, saying, “Imagine the message it will convey...to have an event that does not address the real issues…. The community will likely think that there is credibility in the blood libel displayed at the library….
“Other people in the community wanted to counter with a pictorial essay displaying the ravages of terrorism…and ways to show the propaganda behind the fraudulent Gaza art show.”
Speaking to the Tribune, chief librarian Paul Takala cited the Freedom of Information policy.
“Sometimes our exhibits show material that parts of our community find unacceptable,” he said, adding that the library has to “honour its commitment” to CJPME.
The Tribune tried reaching Finkelstein and CIJA CEO?Shimon Fogel but did not hear back before deadline.