Museum in Haifa Cancels Talk by Arab Israeli Because He Is ‘Palestinian’

Director of Hecht Museum at Haifa U says Hecht Foundation, associated with museum, ‘would not permit a gallery talk to be held at the museum for a Palestinian artist’; university slams decision

Saher Miari's installation  “Construction in Progress” on display in the Department of Art History, the Hecht Museum at Haifa University, January 15, 2020.

The Hecht Museum at Haifa University canceled a talk by an Arab Israeli artist because the appearance by “a Palestinian artist” would displease the Hecht Foundation, which is associated with the museum, the museum’s director said Tuesday.

Haifa University condemned the decision, and the talk by artist Saher Miari was rescheduled elsewhere on campus.

Meiri created an installation titled “Construction in Progress” as part of a master’s degree course in curating taught by the curator Smadar Schindler in the university’s art history department. Following the cancelation at the Hecht Museum, the installation was moved to a corridor near the university library.

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Shunit Netter-Marmelstein, director and curator of the Hecht Museum, wrote a letter to Schindler and to the head of the university’s art history department, Jochai Rozen, telling of her decision to cancel the event.

“The decision stems from our commitment to take the views and the wishes of the Hecht Foundation into consideration. Based on past experience, the foundation would not permit a gallery talk to be held at the museum for a Palestinian artist,” she wrote. “We would have been spared the unpleasantness that we have encountered if you would have approached me directly and then I might have gotten complete information regarding the event that you wished to hold.”

Saher Miari
Yigal Pardo

Netter-Marmelstein is currently abroad but issued a statement in which she apologized for any hurt feelings over the decision.

In a Facebook post, Schindler wrote: “Originally, the talk was supposed to be held at the Hecht Museum. …. At the last moment, a notice was received that the event could not be held at the scheduled location because artist Miari is a Palestinian artist. The combination of the words Palestinian artist and only for that reason, meaning due to his background, was preventing him from appearing at the museum, prompting associations that are incomprehensible and impossible to reconcile with.”

Miari, 45, was born in the Arab Israeli village of Jadeidi-Makr, near Acre. He studied art at Western Galilee College and at the Midrasha art school at Beit Berl.

His “Under Construction” installation is based on three sources of inspiration and references: the university library and Eshkol tower, and the Wadi Salib neighborhood of Haifa. He links the three through the use of construction material such as concrete and iron derived from the artist’s life. Through the work, Miari adds other construction material that also featured in his prior work – burnt motor oil and white cloth.

Following the cancellation of the Hecht Museum event, the dean of humanities at the university, Prof. Gur Alroey, sent a letter to the president, rector and director general of the university, stating: “I would like to bring to your attention that the curator of the Hecht Museum, Ms. Shunit Netter-Marmelstein, has barred holding a ‘gallery talk’ for artist Saher Miari due to the fact that he is Palestinian. Miari is a citizen of the State of Israel. It is not difficult to imagine the storm that would have erupted if the curator of a museum in Europe had written a similar email to a department head and replaced the word ‘Palestinian’ with the word ‘Jewish.’ I am ashamed and embarrassed as a faculty dean, as a faculty member and as a citizen.”

The University of Haifa issued a statement saying: “The university views the matter with gravity. The decision to prevent an Israeli artist from participating at an event to which he had been invited due to a certain component of his identity is an inappropriate decision that has no place at the university. The decision was taken without the approval of the administration and without informing it. The curator is currently abroad and therefore at this stage only a partial investigation has been carried out. A full, thorough investigation will be held when she returns to Israel.”

Netter-Marmelstein stated: “This involved an exceptional and sensitive event that took place during my absence from the museum and I won’t be able to respond until the matter is thoroughly examined and all of the facts are clarified when I return to Israel. I would like to apologize if unpleasantness was unjustly caused to anyone involved.”