Are you ready for this one? Hamas and Fateh are not terrorist groups. They are political organizations!!! That is what it says on a website, and sadly, you do not have to be very naive to believe it. You see, a librarian put it together, and people tend to trust librarians. They think of them as knowledgeable and fair-minded. Well, maybe they shouldn't.
The website remains the handiwork of Christof Galli, Middle East resources specialist at Duke University's Perkins Library, and member of the Muslim Networks Consortium, a group run, in part, by Ebrahim Moosa, who teaches at Duke. As reported in the April 23rd edition of The Chronicle, a Duke University newspaper, Professor Moosa has exclaimed: "I think the language of 'terrorism' is going to go out, and it's going to be replaced with 'resistance' and 'liberation' from American power."
In its original form, Galli tellingly entitled the website "Palestine Internet Resources," and it contained a map on which Israel was nonexistent.
Neither has the website, defended in writing by head librarian David Ferriero, been limited to simply bashing Israel, along with the usual, more subtle anti-Jewish asides so many opponents of that tiny nation relish in spewing out. Rather, it continues to be quite overtly anti-Semitic, linking to a racist cartoon, for example, in which the Star of David is crafted from barbed wire!
I consider myself to be on the center of the political spectrum, but must give considerable credit to the Duke Conservative Union. It was the DCU whose members first exposed the website's bigotry, as well as the overwhelmingly pervasive anti-Bush sentiments, found on a second Perkins Library website, likewise constructed by Galli. A recent editorial in New Sense, a DCU magazine, summed up this sorry state of affairs: "Mr. Galli and Mr. Ferriero should be deeply ashamed of their actions. The former 'librarian' misused his post as a bully pulpit to preach to unsuspecting students. The latter is too foolish to realize this. Neither man deserves a position at a serious institution of higher learning."
But what happened in the Perkins Library is not, by any means, unique.
Ponder what has been taking place at the Boulder Public Library, in Colorado. The outreach librarian there is Lebanon-born Ghada Elturk, who has been active in the American Library Association's International Relations Round Table. Her published writings reveal someone who is a passionate advocate of the Palestinian cause. But has Elturk used her job to propagandize for it? You be the judge. In April of 2002 alone, at least six pro-Palestinian, and no pro-Israeli films were shown, in the library's main branch. The distributors have vaunted one of those scheduled, "The Bombing," as a motion picture which does not take sides, but that is simply not the case. Its narration unequivocally blames the Israelis for the homicide/suicide bombings, instead of placing the onus on the Palestinian Authority's unrelenting indoctrination about the "glories" of jihad. However, the distributing agency did have "Welcome to Hadassah Hospital," their only film, at the time, that leaned in favor of Israel. Why wasn't even that single documentary among the films shown to those in attendance?
Moreover, several of the pro-Palestinian films, viewed that month, were added to the Boulder Public Library's permanent collection, and are currently available for loan. Acquisitions at the library have, for some time, been heavily skewed against Israel. An examination of its online catalog will confirm that. Yet another pro-Palestinian program has already been scheduled there for November 1, 2004.
Clearly, a very disturbing trend, one that raises distinct questions about professional ethics and accountability, is taking root in our libraries. Please understand that I am NOT advocating censorship. But aren't communities entitled to fairness, balance, discretion, and sensitivity from their public libraries? Aren't those values supposed to underlie the library profession? And are they not especially important when ethnic and international political disputes, of long duration, are involved?
The pro-Palestinian film series, which was held in the Flint Michigan Public Library, this past November, was a trifle more restrained than the one in Boulder. "Only" three pro-Palestinian films were shown, with no pro-Israeli ones!
There was a bit of media variety, in two separate Israel-bashing programs, at the New Brunswick, New Jersey Public Library, in 2002. On June 29th, an anti-Israel film was shown, and exactly four months later, an anti-Israel lecture, with accompanying slideshow, was presented. The International Solidarity Movement's New Jersey offshoot, led by Charlotte Kates, notorious for declaring that Israeli children are a "legitimate target," was heavily involved in these affairs. I know of no recent pro-Israel programs at this library.
Neither has there been any presentation in rebuttal to separate anti-Israel films, respectively shown in the auditorium of the Berkeley Public Library on October 30th and November 6th, of last year. And these happenings have not been the only times this library has engaged in
grandstanding for the Palestinian side. Back in 1998, a display window at its main entrance was "graced" with an exhibition of drawings by Palestinian children, having such inflammatory titles as: "Three Israelis Deport a Palestinian Woman From the Homeland" and "Tear Gas in My Eyes." On January 30, 1998, The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, quoted Jack Kessler, of the Israel Action Network, in Berkeley, as follows: "It's an attempt to smear the Israelis...It's doubly intolerable by being on public property and being sponsored by the library..." There have been, of late, increasing acts of anti-Semitic violence and vandalism in Berkeley. To what extent have the library's programs encouraged these outrages?
In Iowa, at the Ames Public Library, what may be the granddaddy of "let's gang up on Israel" motion picture events, has perhaps resulted in even more bitterness and division than the others. Because of it, some within the small Jewish community of Ames, are now feeling vulnerable and isolated. Friendships of longstanding have ended and one man, who had volunteered in the library, quit doing so, to protest what transpired.
Beginning on September 11, 2003, and continuing into December, an astonishing thirteen films were shown, under the title "Palestine Unabridged," without any that were sympathetic to Israel! Some Ames residents, disgusted by this massive propaganda fest, requested that a five minute statement be read prior to the showing of one of the movies, "Jenin, Jenin." Without a doubt, the film arouses hatred for Jews, in general, as it is replete with canards, enhanced by dishonest editing, which incorporated footage taken from other times and places. Among those who have refuted the lies in it have been: an official UN investigative unit; Dr. David Sangan, an IDF physician who personally witnessed what actually transpired; a French-led team which produced the documentary, "The Road To Jenin;" and even Thabet Mardawi, a Palestinian that fought there, who was later interviewed on CNN. Needless to say, the UN, CNN, and Mardawi can not exactly be accused of partiality to Israel.
Why hasn't "The Road To Jenin" been shown at the Ames Public Library? Why were the Ames citizens, who wanted their comment read, told "absolutely not?" Indeed, even after adult services librarian, Lynne Carey, acknowledged the anger generated by "Palestine Unabridged," she was quoted in the November 13th Iowa State Daily, as saying: "We haven't considered pulling the program despite the concerns." Why wasn't that even considered? Was not such close-minded determination indicative of a lack of responsiveness, from public employees, mandated to serve everyone, without prejudice? Why was "Palestine Unabridged" dedicated to the memory of Rachel Corrie? And who was it that decided to bring Corrie's aunt and cousin, who do not even live in Iowa, to the library, for a ceremony marking the inception of the series?
Corrie was the U.S. flag-burning member of the aforementioned, terror-enabling International Solidarity Movement. She was accidentally killed when she entered a closed military zone, during an IDF operation aimed at destroying tunnels used for smuggling weapons, from Egypt into Gaza. Has either the Ames Public Library or Duke's Perkins Library done something to honor the memory of Dina Carter, the young Israeli-American and Duke University graduate, murdered with eight others, when a Hamas thug blew up the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria, on the Hebrew University campus? Miss Carter had been a librarian-archivist at the Jewish National Library, on Mount Scopus, and on the day of her death, she was registering for courses to improve her professional skills. Unlike Rachel Corrie, she never mutilated a U.S. flag!
Sorry, but I feel no sympathy for Gina Millsap, the head librarian, who is now unhappy that the library is being called anti-Semitic. Quite ironically, she is active in the Intellectual Freedom Round Table of the American Library Association. Ms. Millsap, exactly how did such a long, publicly funded program, promoting only one viewpoint, contribute to the freedom of inquiry?
I doubt that many will be fooled by condescending gestures. Belatedly, those who organized this travesty, requested The Ames Tribune to list and review a number of pro-Israeli books, and the newspaper did so. But has that made things right and equitable? Do the reviews really pack the visual and emotional wallop of almost three months of pro-Palestinian films?
There have been other recent Israel-bashing fiestas that limitations of space prevent me from mentioning, at this point. By the time this article appears in print, a public library in the Midwest will probably have hosted an especially big and nasty one. More articles about the bias in libraries may well be forthcoming. And some class action, taxpayer lawsuits are in order to hold municipalities, state governments, administrators, boards and trustees accountable, when those who work in our public, academic and school libraries decide that partisanship is more important than the professional obligation to be fair.
George Baker is a veteran library director