HIGHLAND PARK – Legal action might be the next step in the ongoing dispute surrounding the "P is for Palestine" event at the Highland Park Library.
The Zachor Institute, a legal think tank and advocacy organization, in conjunction with the Central Jersey Jewish Public Affairs Committee, recently sent a letter to the library and borough council informing of forthcoming legal action should the event, planned for 2 p.m. Oct. 20, proceed.
The institute has pledged to take the lead in a legal battle against "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" (BDS) activities. The BDS movement works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law, according to its website.
The Oct. 4 letter states that if the event is not canceled, the institute will be filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education to begin an investigation to determine if the library was in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for promoting anti-Semitism and in violation of RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statutes for supporting terrorist organizations through 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'," said Marc Greendorfer, an attorney who wrote the letter on behalf of the Zachor Institute. "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."
A book reading event for "P is for Palestine" and author Golbarg Bashi was scheduled in May. Bashi, an outspoken BDS movement supporter, wrote the children's alphabet culture book to inform and bring awareness to the lives of Palestinian children.
After the event was publicized and some community members 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, it was postponed pending discussion at a June Highland Park Library Board of Trustees meeting.
Bashi and her supporters, including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) a U.S.-based left-wing activist organization focused on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, decried the postponement. JVP, like Bashi, also support the boycott against Israel through BDS.
At the time of the postponement, Bashi claimed her "First Amendment rights have been broken" and called the cancelation of the May date "an illegal act." A petition which garnered almost 6,000 signatures followed and in turn, the new date was set.
"American librarians have allowed a group to break the First Amendment — a violent group," Bashi said. "Zionists based in that neighborhood. People who adhere to the ideology of Zionism. It is very important between Judaism and Zionism. These are two different things."
One page of the book in question is "I is for Intifada."
According to Bashi, an Iranian-American and former Rutgers University professor, "intifada" is the Arabic word for "resistance" and has a peaceful connotation. She likened it to "Black Lives Matter" and the "Woman's March."
The word's literal definition is "tremor," "shuddering" or "shaking off." Intifada also is the word for the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and ensuing acts of violence between Palestinians and Israelis since 1987 in which thousands have died.
"The people who object to it and come up with all kinds of false lies about it do not know Arabic," said Bashi, a mother of two who lives in New York's Upper West Side. "In the American media context, intifada has been used in connection with violence imagery. Just like other Arabic words. Intifada is actually 71 years old. It is resistance to occupation of a people's land. It is like Native American resistance to white settlers. You have violent aspects in that, but you also have mostly peaceful resistance. You have to completely use the Native American example in the context of Palestinian resistance."
The illustration for the "intifada" page is of a little girl being held by her father standing by a barbed wire fence. Their arms are raised in the "V for victory" stance. The "M" page also raised eyebrows as the women and children drawn on the page are flying kites. Often, Palestinians have flown "kite bombs" into Israel.
Bashi said the issue is not about Israel.
"It's not about the Jewish state," she said. "Israel is a European settler colony based on Zionism which is a political ideology. I do not defend nation states. Any. I am a children's author. I have written a book about children who are misrepresented and underrepresented and maligned in this country — Palestinians. And these children come from a country that has a resistance movement. And it would be disingenuous of me not to include that in the book. This is a loving book written from a place of love to diversify children's books in this country."
"Palestine in this country is a forbidden word," Bashi added. "They don't care what you say about it. Immediately, Zionist Israel advocates try their very best through any means possible to raise it and destroy that person who dares say anything positive about the people who exist."
The book reading's rescheduled date also coincides with the evening start of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot/Hoshana Rabbah, making it difficult for those of the Jewish faith to participate or protest. However, locals opposing the event are planning a protest outside the library the day of the event, according to Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg.
Rosenberg called the timing of the event a "sneak attack" on the holiday.
"The opposition obviously felt we would not come out to protest erev Yom Tov (the night before a holiday)," said Rosenberg, who added National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), the Jewish youth group under the auspices of the Orthodox Union, will be participating. "They are wrong. This is our community — Highland Park, Edison — and no anti-Semite will go unanswered."
Additionally, the borough council is set to vote on an anti-BDS resolution at its Oct. 29 meeting.