The Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) in Oakland, California had planned to display the exhibit “A Child’s View From Gaza” beginning on September 24th, 2011. The show was curated in partnership with the Berkeley-based non-profit group Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), which has been working for 23 years to advocate for Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese children’s rights. Some of the Palestinian children’s illustrations show tanks, guns and explosions. The video embedded below shows a number of the drawings:
When a number of Jewish groups caught wind of the impending display, they began applying pressure on the museum to cancel it. These groups are specifically identified as the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), a subsidiary branch of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA); and the local chapter of the Jewish Community Federation (JCF), which operates under the umbrella of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). The JCRC has repeatedly opposed art and cultural initiatives in the Bay Area which highlight the Palestinian struggle, and has played the anti-Semitic card to censor alternative voices. The JCRC and the JCF both receive substantial funding from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, which has also funded MOCHA to the tune of $30,000 in grants in 2011.
The unspoken and unprovable allegation is that the Haas Fund might have threatened to turn off the financial spigot if MOCHA hadn't pulled the plug. So on September 8th, MOCHA announced that they would not allow the exhibit to take place. Randolph Bell, the chairman of MOCHA's board of directors, admitted that the board shut down the show due to pressure from “constituents,” one of which is the Haas Fund.
The cancellation of the exhibition was celebrated as a victory by pro-Israel groups. On September 7th, the day before the cancellation was announced, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay (JFEB) had already received information about the cancellation, and boasted about it on its official twitter account.
JFEB (@JFEDeastbay) tweeted: “Great news! The ‘Child’s view from Gaza’ exhibit at MOCHA has been canceled thanks to some great East Bay Jewish community organizing.”
Rabbi James Brandt, CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, denied that censorship was the goal. He expressed regret at the tone of the Tweet that celebrated MOCHA’s closure of the exhibit, and insisted the issue was serious and more complex. Brandt said that a statement issued under his organization’s banner together with East Bay’s Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League better represented the Jewish establishment’s position:
“A biased, one-sided perspective filled with depictions of violence has no place in a community-based museum dedicated to serving young children, including 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds,” the statement read.
Interestingly, there are no age limits posted on the entrance to Holocaust museums, which can have some rather graphic and gruesome displays inside.
Barbara Lubin, MECA’s executive director, said that it was “upsetting and infuriating” that the show was canceled, but she wasn’t surprised. She added that what they’re doing is financing the work of silencing and shutting down anyone who wants to talk about what’s really happening to Palestinians. She noted that the pro-Israel groups are afraid that people will start understanding what’s really going on with Israeli policy through seeing exhibits like this one. They don’t want people to know that Palestinian children are suffering.
But there's a happy ending to this story. The exhibit is now taking place at an alternate location. MECA announced that “A Child’s View From Gaza” re-opened in the courtyard outside of the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland to a tremendous crowd of supporters. The exhibit is scheduled to run through November.