Evanston Public Library bans my book talk on Palestine

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My talk about my book has been canceled by the Evanston Public Library.

Evanston Public Library in the north shore suburbs of Chicago has canceled a talk I was scheduled to give on 11 August about my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

I consider this to be a politically motivated and blatant act of censorship.

It fundamentally contravenes the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights which states, among other things, that libraries “should challenge censorship” and “should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.”

I learned about the cancelation like everyone else, from a Tweet from the library’s account that my talk would be “rescheduled,” and from the fact that the event has been removed from its calendar.

on Twitter

To be clear, I have had no discussions with the library or the co-sponsors about rescheduling the event in the future. It was unilaterally canceled by library director Karen Danczak Lyons.

There were however clear warning signs that this act of censorship was about to take place.

The event had been initiated and co-sponsored by a local Evanston group called Neighbors for Peace, which had been working for months to schedule and organize the event.

On Friday, I received an email from Lesley Williams, director of Adult Services at the library:

Dear Mr. Abunimah,

I am very sorry to have to write to you today. A few weeks ago, when I was talking to the Evanston Library administrative team about your appearance here, I told my director that I was looking for a pro Israeli speaker for sometime in the fall. She told me she would be more comfortable if we had that nailed down before your reading.

Today she told me that since I have not yet confirmed a pro Israel speaker she want[s] us to cancel your appearance on the 11th. This was of course an enormous shock. I am hoping she will allow us to still have the program, but sponsored by Neighbors for Peace and not as a library sponsored event, but merely a room rental.

Williams said that members of Neighbors for Peace were discussing that option, and added:

Please accept my abject apologies. I had no idea the program would be cancelled if I didn’t confirm an Israeli speaker before the 11th. I explained to her [the director] that re-scheduling a high profile writer and speaker like yourself will not be easy, but she is firm on the notion of “balance.”

I will keep you informed of what gets decided. Let’s hope for the best.

As noted, I learned from the library’s Twitter feed today that the event has now been canceled.

Unwelcome

Originally, the event had been scheduled for 4 August, but it was changed to 11 August at the request of Williams because the original date coincides with the eve of the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, which in Jewish belief commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

In a 26 June email, Williams had asked if I would be open to changing the date so that my friend, the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council member Rabbi Brant Rosen could introduce me – otherwise his pastoral duties would have kept him away.

I had no problem with that at all. But in a more troubling statement that reflects the political pressure the library is under, Williams wrote to me that Tisha B’Av is seen as “a day of great disasters for the Jewish people” and to “host a program on Israel and Palestine on that day could be seen as an intentional provocation and might antagonize some of the people we hope to reach.”

On the alternative date of 11 August, Williams wrote, “there are no conflicts on either the library or the Jewish calendar.”

I believe Williams has good intentions and was reflecting what she was told by others.

That is partly why, at the time, I kept my concern over her statement to myself and I agreed to change the date out of a desire to ensure that the event would be, and be seen to be, as inclusive and welcoming as possible.

It seems, however, that despite my efforts, I am the only person who is not welcome at the Evanston Public Library.

I had planned to read from my book a section providing context on the situation in Gaza as well as speaking about Israel’s horrifying, ongoing massacre there which has killed more than 1,650 people, the vast majority of them civilians, including 300 children.

Thanks to director Karen Danczak Lyons’ censorship edict, I won’t have the chance to do that at the Evanston Public Library. But I will continue to do so everywhere else.

Comments

I live in Evanston and go to the library on an almost weekly basis. This is an outrage and I've written to the library to tell them that our community has a right to the truth about the ongoing horrific murder of Palestinians being done in our name and with our tax dollars. Free Gaza ! Let Ali speak!

I emailed my unhappiness over the cancellation to the director at director@epl.org - not that it will do any good.

That's a good idea. I too have now writen Mrs. Lyons at director@epl.org to express my thoughts on her repression of Mr. Abunimah's voice and her contribution to the slaugther of the people of Gaza.

I've also just fired off an email to Karen Danczak Lyons. Let everyone contact her on this subject, politely but firmly. This arbitrary abuse of authority must be overturned.

I completely agree with your decision to avoid Evanston Public Library like the plague. But please, down the road, reconsider when Karen Lyons is no longer on the staff, or when she acknowledges her mistake in using her position to become politically active towards incredible violence and mass murder.

Mary Gavin, publisher of Evanston Roundtable, takes journalism in Evanston to a new low. The article is titled "Analysis: Support the Public Library" - to say nothing about stick your head in the sand about Israeli terrorism by mentioning the term Palestine Taboo as if it was a plot from outer space.
http://www.evanstonroundtable....
Also check out the article, "After Controversy, Abunimah Speaks at EPL", by Matt Simonette on Aug 15, at the same new site. He spoke with me before writing that article and told me he was not allowed to write anything about WHY the Palestine Taboo exists. He was not allowed to bring up Israeli actions, just Neighbors for Peace actions with no explanation.

I am an Evanston and teacher at ETHS. This is an outrageous act of censorship and cowardice. Evanston demands that Mr. Abunimah be allowed to speak.

Has there been any discussion about possibly doing an action in response to the library's censorship? Perhaps getting folks to gather in front of the library for a public reading of your book or something along those lines? Just a thought.

"The Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees is bound by the democratic principles expressed by the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution and endorses the American Library Association's "Library Bill of Rights," and incorporates it as part of this policy. "

http://www.epl.org/index.php?o...

And you mean to tell me it is that difficult for this library to find a pro-Israel speaker to commit to appear in the future?

Perhaps a podium with a microphone on public grounds in front of the library could serve as an alternative.

I heartily agree. In any case, there should be some demonstration to express our outrage. Please let me know how I can assist as a longtime Evanston resident.

As a former resident of Evanston I am also appalled and will send a note of my own to the director. I'm guessing that you face this sort of thing a lot and I want to thank you for speaking out because a lot of people don't.

As an Evanston resident I am terribly disappointed in this action displaying no courage on the part of Karen Danczak Lyons. Truly I had thought better of her and the Evanston Public Library. Mr. Abunimah, please accept my apology on behalf of so many of us in Evanston who had wished to hear you speak. Please know also that there are some people of conscience who watch the atrocity occurring in Gaza with tremendous grief. It speaks well of both you and Rabbi Brant Rosen that you wished to raise your voices for peace and greater understanding at a time of crisis. I am ashamed that the Evanston Public Library eschewed its self-stated commitment to free speech in favor of a poorly managed act of censorship. thank you for your willingness to come here and thank you for your courage and decency.

Where to even begin... If this was scheduled as an event around your book, why would there need to be a pro Israel speaker. Does the library always have an opposing view present at all their book events? If an author of a vegetarian book has a reading is a meat eater invited to present an opposing view? The Tisha B'Av issue is just an excuse, to avoid some reporter exploiting the event. Tisha B'Av is not a major holiday that is observed widely. The way it is observed is by fasting, reading Lamentations and/or studying. However, Evanston Library is a public space, therefor the Jewish calendar should not interfere with their scheduling. Are they also canceling any type of enjoyable activities that day, because that is also not allowed on Tisha B'Av. Canceling this event is against everything principle and mission of public libraries.

Pro-Israel bias much, on the part of the director?

We are in serious trouble when LIBRARIES start censoring writers! (I originally wrote "We are in deep d__-d__," but the filter deemed that mild turn of phrase obscene and wouldn't post it ... Irony piles upon irony!)

I think you should form a demonstration outside the library on the day you were scheduled to speak before they cancelled on you. So what if the library refuses to host your book talk. Do it anyway!

I sent the following email to Mrs. Lyons:

Dear Mrs. Lyons,

What? A public library canceling a book reading by a respected author because a "balancing author" has not yet been scheduled???? And in Evanston of all places, a most open and diverse community! Mrs. Lyons, this is an egregious example of blatant prejudice and bias. If you have a problem with what you think Mr. Abunimah will talk about, then you should recuse yourself from making a decision to cancel his talk. Let the citizens of Evanston decide for themselves what information they wish to have available to them. That is the “American way”, isn’t it? With our US tax dollars being spent in ever increasing numbers to support a foreign war whose legality has been openly questioned by leaders of the international community, don’t you think taxpayers need to know how that money is being spent in our name, and about the consequences of that war? I urge you to reconsider this truly injudicious decision and let Mr. Abunimah speak as originally scheduled. Otherwise, you would do well to offer your resignation.

Sincerely,

My wife is a decades-long member of the ALA; I was a pro-civil liberties troublemaker at WBBM from 1969 until 1993. We lived in Evanston for many years, and we regarded the public library as indispensable to public enlightenment and the preservation of democracy. Ms. Lyons has done her bit to turn that great public resource into a conveyance of propaganda.

In reading through the various comments I noted that most (all?) are coming from everyday average Americans, which is gratifying that some have taken the trouble to look into the situation beyond what our mainstream media tells us.

I do wonder if the director made this decision on her own. I suspect pressure groups/persons had a hand in it. I suppose it's possible that threats were made. The blocking of the Palestinian opinion in U.S.A. is ongoing - the past couple of weeks NBC, CNN and MSNBC stifled reporters.

The library's decision is therefore quite predictable.

It is clear that the brutal Israeli Occupation has brought us to this point. The American media has been restrained by the power of AIPAC and shows no balance in their "news reporting". So, people of good conscience try to provide local public education on many topics that are not being discussed on major TV and Radio channels by showing films and bringing authors to local venues (libraries/churches). Truth rarely surfaces in the news that is so filtered today, "balance" is a hiding place where "truth" is scarcely felt. As a long time user of the Evanston Library I am appauled by this decision and hope that there will be a public review and consideration of the meaning of this decision in our supposed "democracy". Respectfully, Catherine Buntin, Public Health Nurse

Please remember that a library director is answerable to the library board. If you really want your voice heard and change made, contact the EPL board.

Here's the board with contact information

http://www.epl.org/index.php?o...

The cancellation is outrageous!
They need to hear what you have to say; I enjoyed and learned much from your talks.
Mark. (Jewish human rts. activist Chicago)

"I do wonder if the director made this decision on her own. I suspect pressure groups/persons had a hand in it."

Public library directors tend to be heavily focused on fundraising. My guess is that the motivation is to suck up to major donors.

While the Evanston Library decision is appalling I am gratified by the outpouring of opinions and actions by the Evanston community against the library's decision. I only wish that all communities in the US had such educated and committed people who could see through the "balanced" pro-Israel views spouted by the media and unfortunately by our Congressional representatives. It is going to take many Evanstons who value justice along with peace to stop the Israeli actions.

I sent the following:

Dear Mrs. Lyons,

What kind of "balance" are you seeking? If you have been aware of the history, both past and present, of the ethnic cleansing and occupation by the Israeli government of the indigenous Palestinian population, "balance" would be the least important factor in your decision. I am sorry if you have been pressured by pro-Israel Zionists to cancel this important presentation. Librarians, in my experience, have never been afraid of providing a platform for the truth.

I am hopeful that you will see the error in your cancellation of Ali's presentation and will reschedule it immediately.

Ali,

This is good news for you in disguise. Although this is a speech "ban," book "bans" always increase visibility/sales and this event may have a similar effect on your situation. I have suggested to a number of authors that the way to increase sales is to get friends to seek to remove the author's book from public and school libraries. Well you have it handed to you on a silver platter.

Very soon the American Library Association's so-called "Banned Books Week" is starting. I tweeted the following to make sure the organizers know of your situation:

@SafeLibraries: "Evanston Public Library Bans My Book Talk on Palestine" @EvanstonPL http://t.co/Ubdb3ZHA3r by @intifada #BannedBooksWeek @OIF

As a librarian, I want to say that this is absolutely awful. It totally goes against the professional ethics that we hold so dear.

But on the positive side, this has been picked up by the various online librarian communities - so surely it will lead to more events on the Palestinian struggle at other public libraries around the country.

I have sent the following to Ms. Lyons:

Director Karen Danczak Lyons,

I was informed this morning that you have decided to cancel the upcoming book event featuring Ali Abunimah, who was to talk about his recent work, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. In a Saturday tweet from Evanston Public Library’s Twitter account, it was announced that "We will reschedule Ali Abunimah's talk. With this complex issue, we now plan to schedule more speakers on other dates too.” Apparently, the author found out about this cancellation through social media, rather than by a courtesy call from you or your staff.

On May 28th, I hosted Mr. Abunimah at Firedoglake’s weekly Book Salon. The book salon’s editor understood that the book raises “complicated” questions, yet saw no need to cancel the author’s appearance or to “schedule more speakers” for some reason or another, to balance or offset what Mr. Abunimah has written about, or might have written in his salon comments.

Mr. Abunimah is a compelling writer, journalist and commentator. I hope you are aware that in his many appearances over the past few months to speak or write about his book, no credible person has raised a single issue claiming Mr. Abunimah’s book is questionable in terms of accuracy, veracity or content.

To have cancelled this important voice on such a timely issue appears to me - and to a host of others - as blatant, perhaps even craven censorship. The method of letting the word out on this cancellation through social media before ensuring the author had been informed should be held up s a sterling example of unprofessional behavior on your part, or on that of your staff.

Sincerely,

Philip Munger

Weren't our taxes just raised 5% to pay for our libraries? I wanted to hear this author. I will be contacting the library board. The libraries cannot expect taxpayer support if this is what they do. I suggest we host the event somewhere else in the vicinity.

As an Evanston resident, I cannot believe this decision made by our Public Library. I will certainly let them hear my dismay and disappointment. I have now added both of your books to my reading list…along with My Promised Land by Ari Shavit. All Americans need to be learning more and then taking educated action as we are able.

Do they book a pro Palestine speaker each time they host a pro Israel speaker? Follow the money and you will know why they canceled the event/

Follow the money? A little stereotyping here?

Here is the text of my message to the EPL:

In my experience – 47 years in radio and television, more than half that in news and public affairs, and the final 24 at WBBM – the obsession with two-sidedness in the presentation of matters of public concern was a preferred technique in dealing with heresy. Speaker Y could have air time only if a representative of those elements that opposed Speaker Y’s views and worked to keep them off the air were present. For the dominant point of view to oppose Speaker Y in a live setting confers no advantage, but it carries the risk that the middleweight will dance around, peppering the heavyweight with jabs, making the favorite look foolish. Consequently, heretical voices were not often heard at WBBM or at my previous employing station, WNAC in Boston, unless I defied management and let them be heard.

In canceling Ali Abunimah’s book talk until a time when someone can be found to counter his account of the parlous state of justice in historical Palestine, you have adopted a tactic that will please many of your North Shore library card holders while bringing shame to the institution you manage. The American people are woefully ignorant of the history of Palestine, but, in my experience, they are not unteachable. Their ignorance is not self-sought; it is guarded and nourished by people who profit by sprinkling the dust of delusion in the people’s eyes. Dust control is the most important thing that librarians do. It is what I thought was my most important task as a young broadcast newsman. I am in retirement; you are not. You can still bring Mr. Abunimah in for the book talk, take the inevitable flak, and end the episode in the knowledge that, as a librarian, you have done your job.

As luck would have it, my sister-in-law lives in Evanston. I sent her a copy of the blog. She promptly wrote the Ms. Lyons and also to the Mayor of the city. I hope that they have enough outpouring to realize that this censorship cannot happen any more in the U.S. It needs to stop!
#FreePalestine

Dear Mr. Abuminah,

I am very disappointed that I will not be seeing you speak next week. I am even more disappointed at EPL for cancelling this event for very questionable reasons and in such an unprofessional manner. I was really looking forward to hearing you speak, seeing as how Palestinian activists are rarely invited to speak here in the U.S. If EPL refuses to let you speak, I hope Neighbors for Peace can find another location for a talk, even if its a residential venue or outdoors. I think having the talk and not letting EPL's decision be the last word is the most important thing.

i married a man from evanston; i have always thought of it as a kind of mecca for open-minded people to grow and explore and communicate. but the library director as censor of the people of evanston?
surely there is another place in town that would accept Mr. Abunimah (make it a big one because the free publicity this author has received will double the size of the crowd). don't miss the chance to have such a timely talk available to your citizens. just find a new event co-ordinator (another thing evanston is good at). good luck avoiding thought control in the heartland.
Wendy Brooks

I was just in the library two weeks ago and saw that you were coming. I was so excited to finally get to hear you speak about your book and hear more about the issues that are at hand. This is such a disappointment and I too will be writing the director tonight.
It seems that in our days, people are out to make sure their positions on issues will prevail whether that means through social media, power of position, or protests. It's an act of immaturity and is becoming more and more disturbing because issues will not resolve themselves by ignoring other peoples ideas, thoughts, and opinions. I do hope that if and when another date becomes available that you will consider coming to Evanston, there are people here that would enjoy hearing what you have to say!

Although I agree that you should have found out about the cancellation personally and not via Twitter, the library is absolutely right to cancel your program without having a program representing the other side. This has nothing to do with censorship and everything to do with the library, as a publicly-funded entity, needing to remain neutral with their approach to controversial topics. That's what most of you can't seem to understand. THEY HAD TO CANCEL.

Most libraries would not have even entertained the idea of having you speak. Kudos to Evanston for being open enough to attempt a dialogue on this subject.

This isn't a complex issue. The U.S. funded Israeli invaders are massacring the Palestinians who have been herded into an open air prison by the invaders who have taken possession of their homes. This is simple history and ongoing news. The reason this continues is because THEY HAD TO CANCEL reporting the truth. Just like if 100 years ago a newspaper thought of printing a guest editorial against lynching. There would have had to be a story alongside about a white woman who was allegedly molested by a negro. THEY WOULD HAVE TO CANCEL the guest editorial, until they had that story of an alleged molestation to "balance" it out.

That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. So, what you're saying is that when Jewish scholars, authors, and artists hold holocaust exhibitions and lectures in public libraries they have to have Nazi's present? You know, for balance. Fact is that what is going on in Palestine is beyond troubling. To shut down a voice that brings awareness to these events is irresponsible. Also, are you saying that librarians are gutless cowards? You seem to indicate that. As for idea of "balance," this country has been tipped in a pro-Israel stance for far too long. Isn't it time we heard the OTHER side of the story?

Cindy, if your suggested policy were followed (no speaker without a speaker from "the other side"), the other side could effectively censor the library by failing to provide its own speaker. In any case, there are often more than two "sides" to an issue. What then? The real test of impartiality is whether the library is open to speakers of diverse persuasions, and whether such speakers receive a hearing over a reasonable time scale.

Contact the president and other members of the board of trustees. The director answers to them. You can find all their contact information at this link:

http://epl.org/index.php?optio...

Ali, I was planning to go to this event, and was disappointed to hear about this. As the Senior Minister at Lake Street Church in Evanston, I would like to offer meeting space for that time, August 11 at 7:00 PM if the library administration will not reconsider this.

Come on over to Humboldt Park--I'd bet we could have your talk at the library here, or in the park--which is quite a lovely setting. I would even be willing to offer up my humble home to host the readying.

Okay stuck between a rock and hard place, the speaker was booked before the current tragic events so the director chose not to ban the speaker forever but change the date...wouldnt it bring more clarity to be able to hear two speakers within a fairly close time period? For those who know little about the subject, opposing views isn't such a bad idea.
There weren't enough opposing viewpoints when Hitler and his brown shirts were speaking either...

Are you equating the speaker, Mr. Ali Abunimah, to Hitler and his brown shirts? If so, I cannot take your comment seriously...

This is the opposing view we aren't allowed to hear normally. Let the author speak.

There is an open board meeting on August 13. The topic is the budget. This would be an excellent opportunity for those in the area to highlight the issue.

http://www.epl.org/index.php?o...

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