"P is for Palestine" controversy goes to litigation

Planned October 20 reading of the anti-Israel book at the Highland Park, N.J. library, is now the subject of a possible watershed lawsuit.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

"P is For Palestine."
"P is For Palestine."
Courtesy of Golbarg Bashi

The ABC book titled P is for Palestine, by Ms. Goldbarg Bashi, an Iranian-born instructor of Middle Eastern history at Rutgers University, is widely regarded as a creative form of anti-Semitism/Israel-bashing. The word chosen for the letter P and the book's title might be acceptable, although Palestine does not exist except on the book's cover, but the word chosen for the letter I is "Intifada" a call to violence in a book aimed at young children.

A planned May 18th reading of the book at the Highland Park, N.J. Library was postponed after continued and vigorous protests initiated by local Rabbi (emer.) Bernard Rosenberg, son of Holocaust survivors, including an online petition posted on Arutz Sheva,

Now the battle over the reading of the book has moved from protests to legal action. The Central Jersey Jewish Public Affairs Committee (CJJPAC) — a pro-Israel advocacy organization headed by Dr. Marc Hanfling and Marc Kalton, and Zachor Legal Institute, an anti-BDS legal think tank have filed a suit against Highland Park, N,J. and its library.

When the protests began last May, the library issued a statement saying the matter had been referred to its board of trustees for discussion at a regularly scheduled meeting, The public hearing decided on by the board of trustees at that meeting to deal with the question of whether to reschedule the event, was set for June 5. However, the library cancelled the hearing due to “citizen safety and crowd control concerns,” announcing that it would reschedule the “P is for Palestine” talk, while also scheduling a program for a book called “I is for Israel.”

The library is now set to host the reading on Oct. 20, Hoshana Rabbah, which makes it difficult for Jews to attend. Community members had addressed the library board and mayor in advance of the date being set, noting that they wished to be informed of the reading so they could participate, but the request was ignored.

The ABC book has sparked controversy from its publication, highlighted when it was offered for sale at a popular book store on New York’s Upper West Side in 2017. A nearby Reform synagogue objected especially to the two-page spread featuring the letter I, which states “I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!”

Common usage of the term "Intifada" by Palestinian Arabs and its legal definition is Israel is to specifically refer to periods of high-frequency terror attacks against Israelis. The first and second Inftifadas in Israel, as those violent Arab uprisings were called, resulted in well over a thousand Israeli civilians murdered.

Jewish community members noted that the book makes no mention of Israel and the Jewish people at all, despite referring to locations in Israel mentioned in the Bible.

In an op ed posted on June 26 on Arutz Sheva, Attorney Eric Ruskin wrote : The Jews of Highland Park, like those of countless Jewish communities in the past, didn’t seek controversy, but it has found them nonetheless." To the residents of Highland Park, he said: "You might not be interested in the anti-Israel movement but it is interested in you. More to the point, it is interested in influencing your children."

Former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind slammed the public library’s decision at the time, asserting that it had “sold its constituents out, and for real cheap.”

“Instead of rescheduling the hearing so the voices of the community could be heard, they simply decided to schedule the book’s reading, completely disregarding the concerns of the local community. Oh, they threw us a bone: they will, ‘on the advice of counsel’ attempt to ‘balance’ the scales by also having a reading for a book titled ‘I’ is for Israel. So the message they’re sending is simple: it’s OK to have a book that teaches children about the violent intifada so long as we also have one about Jews

A contra petition was also circulated to support "P is for Palestine."

"We call on the Highland Park Public Library to rise up for what is right, reject this racist attack on free speech, and immediately reinstate the planned “P is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book” event with author Dr. Golbarg Bashi.. The sponsor orgs are: Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, American Muslims for Palestine – NJ, Council on American-Islamic Relations – NJ, Occupy Bergen County, Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Labor for Palestine, People’s Organization for Progress, Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, SOMA for Palestine, USACBI: US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel."

Rabbi Rosenberg responded:: 'The intifada started after peace accords were signed. To bring such a message to Highland Park, where many Jews reside including Holocaust survivors and many whose children and grandchildren live in Israel, is a disgrace.No one is seeking for the book to be banned. We have to make it clear that we aren’t seeking that the book be banned or that a different perspective not be heard — simply that a book which presents a term understood to mean massacre of Jews to children as a 'moral' or 'positive' concept constitutes the insidious presentation of hate speech".

According to an article by Elizabeth Kratz for JNS, in a letter dated Oct. 4, attorney Marc Greendorfer, on behalf of the Zachor Legal Institute, wrote to Mayor Gayle Britte Mittler and president of the Highland Park Library Board Bruce Tucker, informing them that the town “appears to be in violation of federal law, including the anti-discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) prohibition on providing material support to designated foreign terror organizations.”

“We understand a number of groups affiliated with the BDS movement have coerced the library into allowing the use of library facilities to spread hate-filled propaganda to children through a planned reading of an anti-Semitic manifesto titled P Is for Palestine.

“We agree with the Lawfare Project that, based on First Amendment law, the library can and should prohibit the reading of a book to children that legitimizes violence. More importantly, however, as a separate matter, the library must independently recognize applicable provisions of federal law,” wrote Greendorfer.

Greendorfer has practiced before the U.S. Supreme Court. His works have been referred to or cited in opinions by the supreme courts of both the United States and Israel. In the Supreme Court of Israel’s 2015 ruling upholding Israel’s anti-boycott law, Greendorfer’s paper on the BDS movement was cited by both the majority and dissent.

Zachor has been active in promoting state laws regarding BDS and has filed briefs opposing BDS policy or promoting anti-BDS legislation in state legislatures and university campuses in California, Texas, Arkansas, Arizona and Maryland.

The legal action will support the removal of federal funding and will seek federal government censure for a town taking federal funds used to promote anti-Semitism.

“The nature of the book reading and its propagating of anti-Semitism towards Jews in Israel are believed to meet the definition of anti-Semitism as used by the State Department and the Department of Education,” said Josh Pruzansky, a community organizer, quoted on JNS.




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