NEW YORK — Groups of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists are expected to confront each other outside a public library in New Jersey on Wednesday, where the library board will decide whether to hold a reading of the children’s book “P is for Palestine.”
The Highland Park Library’s Board of Trustees canceled a previously scheduled reading of the book due to pressure from community members.
The book, written by Dr. Golbarg Bash — an Iranian-born author and professor of Middle Eastern history at Rutgers University — previously sparked controversy when it went on sale at a popular bookstore on New York’s Upper West Side in 2017.
Critics of the book took particular issue with a two-page illustrated spread that reads: “I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grown-up!” Critics said the pages glorified the violent Palestinian uprisings in the late 1980s and early 2000s and constitute a “call for violence and terrorism.”
In a Facebook live video she posted about the controversy, Bashi said it was important for her to include “Intifada in the Palestinian context.”
“Palestinians have for 71 years resisted peacefully, beautifully, [with] dance, [by] calling themselves Palestinian, telling their children the stories,” she said, making no mention of the violent uprisings. “How could I possibly not include that?”
However, Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg from nearby Edison posted on Facebook: “This book is anti-Semitic and does not belong in the Highland Park Library.” Rosenberg has vocally opposed the book over the past month on social media as well as in appearances on local media.
Joining Rosenberg on Wednesday evening will be former State Assemblyman Dov Hikind and members of the Zionist Organization of America, who have urged the community to voice their opposition.
The group also said that the book’s description of intifada is “false and misinforms children.”
They added: “In fact, an intifada is a murderous campaign of terrorism that wreaks devastation and fear on innocent Israelis and Jews, including children.”
Bashi said in a social media post that efforts to cancel her reading are harassment by “bullying Zionist vigilantes.”
“They are just a loud, self-entitled, racist minority who think they can actually ban book readings at a U.S. library in 2019 and get away with it,” she said. “And people wonder why there are virtually no children’s book in English about Palestine.”
In its call for action, ZOA also noted that “the mere idea of this book reading has already divided, offended and hurt many community members,” contradicting the Highland Park Public Library’s mission to “build community by creating connections among Highland Park’s diverse populations.”
Bashi said she will not be able to attend Wednesday’s meeting due to “family obligations” and claimed the library’s board was aware of this when they set it up. The central New Jersey chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace will be attending in support of Bashi and will petition to speak in defense of the book.
“As a proud, Yiddish-speaking Jew, I was brought up to believe in social justice for all people — and defending Palestinian rights, and the right for Palestinian stories to be told, is an integral part of my Jewish beliefs,” said Marion Munk, a local resident and JVP member. “It was wrong for Highland Park Library to censor stories about Palestine, and the ACLU-NJ agrees: Censorship is never a good look for a library!”
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