In November 2017, a New York City book store was compelled to hide copies of a children’s alphabet book, P is for Palestine, behind the cash register, and ultimately release a statement denouncing boycotts for Palestinian rights after local Israel supporters and a prominent local synagogue complained about the book.
The author, Golbarg Bashi, received messages threatening to report her to the Department of Homeland Security and deport her to Guantanamo, along with pornographic messages and calls for her book to be banned or burned. Police were also alerted in advance of the author’s book signing after she received death threats.
Bashi’s book features a Palestinian girl with black curly hair who takes a diverse group of children through an illustrated “alphabetic adventure to Palestine” with phrases such as “B is for Bethlehem,” “F is for Falafel” and “J is for Jesus.”
Israel advocates complained about the use of the word “Palestine” in the book’s title. The Stephen Wise Free Synagogue also opposed the use of the word intifada to illustrate the letter I, threatening to ban Book Culture from a book fair if it did not denounce the book. The book states: “Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what’s right, if you are a kid or a grown up!” and depicts a Palestinian girl on her father’s back raising peace signs behind barbed wire.
Intifada is used to describe Palestinian uprising against decades of Israeli military occupation and means “to shake off” in Arabic. There have been two “intifadas,” the first of which utilized a wide array of nonviolent tactics of resistance. The second intifada, which Palestinians began nonviolently, turned violent after hundreds of Palestinians were killed. Bashi said she used the word to describe daily acts of nonviolent resistance, from “carrying a Palestinian flag” to “wearing a Palestinian dress” and “protecting a Palestinian olive tree from being bulldozed.”
Book Culture’s Statement Denouncing Boycotts for Palestinian Rights
In an interview, one of Book Culture’s owners, Chris Doeblin, said that the last time the store faced threats for carrying a book was decades ago, after Iran’s ayatollah issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for Satanic Verses.
On November 29, Book Culture's co-owners were compelled to put out a statement which says that they do not endorse boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns for Palestinian rights and that they support Israel's right to exist. The Stephen Wise Free Synagogue then allowed the store to participate in the book fair.
Jewish Defense League Harasses Children at Hanukkah Reading
In December 2017, uniformed members of the Jewish Defense League, a violent right-wing group, threatened children attending a Hanukkah storytime reading of the book.
Select Media Coverage
Electronic Intifada, New York bookseller bowed to Israel supporters after violent threats (Feb. 13, 2018) by Ali Abunimah
Forward, We Had A ‘P Is For Palestine’ Party For Kids, And The JDL Showed Up (Dec. 27, 2017) by Emmaia Gelman
Literary Hub, Palestinian Children’s Book Becomes Target for Boycott and Censorship (Dec. 19, 2017) by Radhika Sainath
Times of Israel, ‘P is for Palestine’ children’s picture book ignites controversy in New York (Dec. 5, 2017)