HIGHLAND PARK – A library event featuring the children's book "P is for Palestine" and its author that was postponed last month has been rescheduled.
A Highland Park Library Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for Wednesday to hear objections to the book reading by author Golbarg Bashi was canceled due to security concerns. And, in a compromise with objectors, the library will reschedule the event while offering another featuring the book "I Is for Israel" by Gili Bar-Hillel and Prodeepta Das, according to the library's website.
"We are relieved that the library has chosen to cancel the meeting and is adopting the following compromise to defuse this situation and restore peace to our community," Vaad Harabonim of Raritan Valley, a Jewish organization, said in a statement. "We prefer this compromise for the sake of public safety and to avoid potentially toxic confrontations between opposing sides."
Bashi was scheduled to read her alphabet-based Palestinian culture book on May 19 at the library. But after the event was publicized and several residents took issue, believing the 2017 self-published book featuring letters of the English alphabet standing for certain Palestinian words is anti-Semitic and promotes violence, the event was postponed pending discussion.
The board was going to "reconsider the program for the author of the alphabet book 'P is for Palestine,'" and hold a public comment portion at the now-canceled meeting, according to the library website. Library Director Jane Stanley consulted with Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler and Police Chief Rick Abrams over citizen safety and crowd control concerns posed by the meeting.
"This matter attracted extensive coverage from local and national media outlets, as well as tremendous attention from competing audiences who were in favor and opposed to this proposal," Vaad Harabonim said in the statement. "We feared that a huge crowd would assemble for this meeting and the meeting could easily erupt into a volatile confrontation between two opposing factions."
"The Library Board of Trustees President Bruce Tucker concluded that the Library cannot in good conscience proceed with the meeting," according to the library website.
The controversial event made national news. In addition, a coalition of groups started a petition to the Highland Park Public Library to host the reading, gathering almost 6,000 signatures as of this writing (5,995).
The petition encourages supporters to attend the now-canceled meeting and calls "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."
This petition was started by the group Jews for Palestinian Right of Return. Full list of groups supporting the petition: Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, American Muslims for Palestine - NJ, Council on American-Islamic Relations - NJ, Green Party - NJ, Occupy Bergen County, 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.
The petition and Bashi is also supported by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) a U.S.-based left-wing activist organization focused on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. JVP also supports the boycott against Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).