Sapir College’s cancellation of the exhibition “At the Edge of the Sky” after Im Tirtzu protested the inclusion of Hillel Roman’s “No” was a capitulation to political persecution. It is another link in a long chain of attacks on artists and to art. The last and worst of these was the closure of the Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art following the removal of David Reeb’s “Jerusalem” at Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen’s demand.
In the center of Roman’s 2015 work, in white against a black background, is the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, in Arabic. The Shahada appears on the flag of Hamas, as well as on that of Saudi Arabia, one of Israel’s new friends in the Middle East, and on many Muslim inscriptions and symbols. Roman explained that he created “No” in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, after he discovered that Israel had once seen Hamas as an alternative to the PLO.
Had Sapir administrators read the explanation of the artist and the show’s curator, Tamar Roded Shabtay, they would have learned that it sought to reflect “something that is common to Jews and Muslims, centering around a monotheistic faith which lies at the foundation of both religions. The calligraphy of the drawing illustrates the unity by combining fragmentary shapes into a single unified and orderly shape.”
The problem is that no one was given the chance to read the explanation because Sapir was quick to fall into line with Im Tirtzu, the vanguard of political persecution in Israel. In an opinion for the Jerusalem District Court about the organization, the late Prof. Zeev Sternhell raised a number of questions. Among them: “Is a movement that empties liberal democracy of its intellectual and moral content and leaves nothing but the institutional framework of majority rule, while destroying freedom of expression, not already on the path that leads to the essential destruction of democracy?”
That is an important question that needs to be before the eyes of those who surrender to this movement. It is not clear why Sapir’s administration so quickly heeded Im Tirtzu’s people, who violate the principle of freedom of expression – one of the most important principles of democracy. The focus of people who deal with art is art. Censorship is the enemy of art. Sapir should listen to the artists, the curators, the students and the teachers at this special college, whose students include Arabs, Jews and many residents of outlying areas.
Do not give in to Im Tirtzu. Surrender only encourages the next protest, increases its appetite to censor and silence. It also encourages self-censorship, thus harming the entire endeavor of art. The college should retract its decision, allow Roman’s work to be shown and open the exhibition to an audience that is interested in getting closer to its neighbors and the place. Send Im Tirtzu to hell.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.