Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the ACLU of New Jersey wrote the Highland Park Public Library today to inform the library that its cancellation of a May 19 event organized by the Central New Jersey chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) violates the First Amendment. The library had put out a statement that the event was cancelled pending a review by the library’s board after community members complained.
“By explicitly targeting a particular viewpoint being expressed―one humanizing Palestinians and their struggle for freedom―the Highland Park Public Library’s decision to cancel JVP’s event strikes at the heart of the First Amendment,” the civil rights groups wrote.
The event, titled P is for Palestine: Story Reading and Author Signing, was scheduled to feature children’s author and professor Golbarg Bashi.
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.”
The letter explains that public libraries are bound by the First Amendment. This means that public libraries may not discriminate against speech activities on the basis of viewpoint. The letter demands that the library allow the event to be rescheduled at a reasonable date.
“The Highland Park Public Library’s cancellation of JVP’s event is a textbook case of unconstitutional censorship,” said Radhika Sainath, senior staff attorney with Palestine Legal. “Public libraries are where people come to be exposed to new ideas. Libraries of all places should be fierce protectors of free speech.”
According to news reports, those calling for the event to be cancelled disagreed with an image in the book depicting a Palestinian girl on her father’s shoulders raising peace signs behind barbed wire. The text on those pages states: “I is for Intifada. Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what’s right, if you are a kid or a grown up!”
The word intifada, which means “to shake off” in Arabic is used to describe Palestinian uprisings against decades of Israeli military occupation. There have been two such “intifadas,” the first and most iconic of which utilized a wide array of nonviolent tactics of resistance, including mass protests and strikes, boycotts, and a self-sufficiency movement. Palestinians also began the second intifada nonviolently, though some Palestinian factions later turned to violence after hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli army.
“Palestinian stories deserve to be told,” wrote Jewish Voice for Peace - Central New Jersey in a statement. “P is for Palestine is a children’s book about the Palestinian people, culture, and resistance. It portrays Palestinian culture as rich in historical, geographical, culinary, and religious customs.”
See Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU of New Jersey’s letter here.