HIGHLAND PARK, NJ - There's a children's book at the heart of a controversy brewing in this borough where concerned residents are uniting to oppose the author's appearance at the Highland Park Public Library.
Some 60 or so residents have put their name on a letter calling for Golbarg Bashi, a former Rutgers Iranian studies instructor, to be uninvited from speaking about her book, "P is for Palestine."
The book's entry for the letter "I" is at the heart of the letter entitled "Five Common Principles of the Jewish Community In Opposition To a Book reading of P is For Palestine at the Highland Park Public Library."
In the ABC book, "I" stands for Intifada.
According to a copy of the letter obtained by TAPinto New Brunswick, the residents say allowing Bashi to speak at the library would be "insensitive to the complexion of the Highland Park community, which includes a large population of Jews. Sections of the book available online indicate that it does not acknowledge the right of Jews to live in Israel and the impact of two waves of terrorist violence (AKA "Intifada"), which killed thousands of non-combatant Israeli civilians, American citizens, and Palestinians. A public reading of this book could rightly be viewed as an insult to Jewish sensibilities."
It's difficult to know what percentage of Highland Park's 14,000 residents are Jewish because the national census stopped surveying religions in the 1950s. However, Harry Glazer, a longtime Highland Park resident and one of the original "signers" of the letter that has circulated across social media for the past week or so, said one congregational rabbi, one rabbi Emeritus and two immediate past presidents of local synagogues have signed the letter.
Glazer said the plan is to email the letter to the library's administration early next week.
Bashi was scheduled to appear at the library May 19, but the event was at least temporarily postponed and the May 20 Board of Trustees meeting was rescheduled as the library deals with this sudden backlash.
Members of the board did not respond to an email seeking comment. TAPinto New Brunswick attempted to reach Director of Library Service Jane Stanley for a comment. The woman who answered the phone on Wednesday refused to identify herself and refused to comment.
According to a statement on the library's website, "Due to the extraordinary interest in the matter, requiring arrangements to accommodate the expected turnout, that meeting has been moved forward to Wednesday, June 5, at 7:30 p.m. in the Highland Park Community Center at 220 S 6th Ave, at which time the Board will take up the matter."
After the library announced it was postponing Bashi's appearance, the author took to social media to say she had been receiving death threats over the situation.
She was also critical of the library's decision to at least postpone her appearance because "when Israel Advocates found out, they stopped it. So much for the First Amendment and "Muslim women's empowerment." I can't wait for the 40th book on some poor Muslim girl waiting to be given a pen and a notebook to write in by the US military to be prominently displayed on the shelves of American libraries as proof of their "humanity and "attempts to "diversify" kids literature."
Groups such as Palestine Legal, ACLU-New Jersey and the Center for Constitutional Rights have condemned the library's decision to postpone her appearance. One of Bashi's loudest supporters has been the Central New Jersey chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
According to a statement issued by the group yesterday, "Palestinian stories deserve to be told. P is for Palestine is a children's book about the Palestinian people, culture, and resistance. It portrays Palestinian culture as rich in historical, geographical, culinary, and religious customs. This cancellation is one of many recent examples across the country where public institutions have faced a coordinated effort to suppress the movement for Palestinian rights and stifle free speech, or smear any criticism of Israel of as antisemitic."
Also, a petition launched on change.org calling for the library to stop the "ban of a Palestine children's book" was signed by more than 5,200 people as of Friday morning.
For Highland Park residents such as Jeremy Renna, past president of Congregation Ahavas Achim, "P is for Palestine" has stirred deep-rooted emotions. He has seen the page with the illustration of the little girl and a man holding up two fingers for peace near a barbed-wire fence. The image is accompanied witht he words: "I is for Intifada. Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!"
"I have to explain to my daughter that my friend Matt was riding on a bus with his financee and was blown up on the No. 18 bus in Jerusalem," Renna said. "So intifada plays a different role for me. It's not a kid throwing stones. It's someone blowing themselves up on a bus and taking my friend with them and is that really a conversation I really want to have with my 5-year-old?"