The Missouri History Museum canceled a recent panel discussion on Ferguson, Ayotzinapa and Palestine due to pressure from the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to remove Palestine from the event, according to a cache of emails released by the St. Louis chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
The JCRC is a national organization with an Israel advocacy wing.
The event, scheduled for 19 March, was organized by Washington University student group AtlaVoz in collaboration with local Black, Latino and Palestinian activist groups to draw parallels between the struggles against state violence in the US, Mexico and Palestine.
After fully approving and enthusiastically promoting it, museum officials changed their tone two days before the event, demanding that panel organizers either remove Palestinian panelists and the topic of Palestine or find a new venue. The organizers refused to acquiesce to censorship, so the event was canceled.
This prompted a large community protest outside the museum expressing outrage for the museum’s disrespect for speech and discrimination against Palestinians.
The museum claimed that it shut down the event because panel organizers drastically altered the discussion from the initially approved topic. Furthermore, a museum spokesperson insisted to The Electronic Intifada that “there was no outside pressure” to cancel the event and “the decision was made internally at the museum staff leadership level.”
The emails obtained by Jewish Voice for Peace through a Freedom of Information Act Sunshine request demonstrate that the publicly-funded research institution lied.
The museum has asked the JCRC and another anti-Palestinian organization to design a future program on “the history of Palestine and Israel.”
“Disturbed” by Palestine-Ferguson connection
On 17 March, JCRC executive director Batya Abramson-Goldstein emailed museum president Frances Levine to apply pressure to remove Palestine from the discussion.
“I am writing because I have been receiving emails and phone calls expressing dismay at the upcoming History Museum Program: Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action,” she said. “I can understand the dismay. How should I reply to those asking why this event is being sponsored by the History Museum?”
In another email to Levine, Abramson-Goldstein complained that “The conflating of the issues is disturbing. The parallels being made, likewise. The panel is seen as ‘stacked.’ The plan to base a documentary on the event raises the level of concern RE the harm this program may cause.”
Without hesitation, the museum contacted Sourik Betran, the Washington University student who organized the event, and gave him an ultimatum. Either remove Palestine and Palestinians from the discussion or find a new event location, he was told.
Levine dutifully responded to Abramson-Goldstein, writing, “Thanks Batya for bringing this to my attention. [Managing Director of Community Education and Events] Melanie [Adams] says she spoke to you and is back in touch with the students. This is not the program that she approved originally. She has given them some choices to bring the focus back where it was in Ferguson or to take the program back to their campus space. Not sure why they wanted it here anyway …”
Abramson-Goldstein then wrote to Levine expressing her gratitude and enthusiasm for the censorship. “When you and I eventually have our breakfast/lunch/coffee we can look back at this incident as an illustration of a potentially damaging incident defused,” she exalted.
ADL says call the cops
As Abramson-Goldstein and Levine congratulated one another for shutting down speech to silence Palestinians, museum education director Melanie Adams contacted Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — apparently unprompted — to brag about the event’s cancelation.
“We canceled a program brought to us by a wash u student group because they changed the content to include the St. Louis Palestine group talking about how they are similar to the movement in ferguson. We let them know we were not comfortable with this change,” wrote Adams.
Adams added that the students started a social media campaign and were planning to protest outside the museum the next day.
Aroesty responded by encouraging the museum to contact the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department “to let them know you may need additional personnel.”
“However the decision was made to cancel the program, I very much appreciate the allyship,” Aroesty added. “This is a tough time on so many levels, whatever you need from me, don’t hesitate to call.”
Aroesty’s advice to dispatch St. Louis police against activists of color who have been protesting violence deployed against their community by that very same police department, all because they dared to discuss Palestine, encapsulates the role her organization has played in forging connections between purveyors of racist state violence in the US and Israel.
Enforcing unpopular agenda
The ADL, a leading Israel lobby organization, organizes frequent training junkets to Israel for US law enforcement agencies in order to learn occupation enforcement and repression tactics from the Israeli security apparatus.
Aroesty’s comment also demonstrates the Zionist community’s knee-jerk reliance on the state to enforce its increasingly unpopular agenda.
Following the email disclosures, Aroesty told the Riverfront Times, “I feel like the Palestine issue kind of hijacked the Ferguson issue and the Ayotzinapa issue.”
The ADL, along with Zionist groups more generally, has repeatedly condemned the growing bonds between the Black and Palestinian liberation struggles in the wake of the Ferguson uprising, to little effect.
As St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee member Sandra Tamari said in a press release, “When Ferguson started, I found it very interesting that the Anti-Defamation League, put out no fewer than three statements saying ‘don’t compare Ferguson and Palestine.’” She added, “Our solidarity is obviously very powerful and people are scared of us joining forces. The event at the museum is just one example of how we are challenging the status quo.”
Meanwhile, the museum has asked the ADL and JCRC to craft an acceptably pro-Israel program on Palestine to replace the event that was canceled.
In an email to the ADL, Adams wrote: “In light of the current situation, we would like to plan a program that looks at the history of Palestine and Israel. We would like to work with the ADL and the JCRC to put something together. Is this something you are open to doing?”