Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yale surrenders and, then, snitches on Artists 4 Israel

By now, most everyone is aware of the decision by Yale University Press in September of this year to disallow the publication of the 12 Danish cartoons that led Muslims to murder and riot in 2005 from a a book by author Jytte Klausen entitled Cartoon that Shook the World.

Fearing "blood on his hands" should Muslims behave the same way when this book was released as they did when the cartoons were first published, John Donatich, Director of Yale University Press, decided to disallow the inclusion of the cartoons.

Some called his decision dhimmitude, others referred to it as censorship.

The expected cast of characters denounced this disgraceful act, including Alan Dershowitz who called it a fearful precedent. The Hudson Group, in a touching piece written by Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, a practicing Muslim, called it an "abominable" decision. Even unexpected thinkers and critics saw the fault in this decision with both the New York Times and Slate magazine decrying it.

In an interview published in the blog Creeping Sharia, Klausen said:

I am a free speech person, but I am not an activist. For me, there was a violation of academic freedom involved in this instance. I do not think academic freedom is absolute.

Klausen's quote has, only two months later, proven itself to be prescient.

In April of this year, Artists 4 Israel were invited by Dr. Clemens Heni of Yale University's Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism to bring their Art on Campus program to the University. Honored by this request from such a prestigious institution, we waived our honorarium and made ourselves completely flexible to the needs of the University. As it was close to the end of the academic year, A4I and Yale jointly agreed to postpone the visit until the Fall semester. Please note, the request for us to work at Yale was not solicited. It was made by representatives of the University directly to Artists 4 Israel.

Come September, and in the midst of this book crises, Artists 4 Israel made it known that it was planning a program memorializing the Mohammed Cartoon Controversy. It was around this time that the tone of our discussions with Yale moved from collaboration to adversity. We were no longer permitted to speak with Dr. Heni. We were passed around to different facilitators until just this past Friday being informed by Rabbi Lina Zerbarini, the Director of Programming for the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale that Artists 4 Israel's exhibition would not be mounted at her gallery. Dr. Heni no longer works at Yale and it must be noted that the decision to "disinvite" us was not his. Clemens continues to be a friend and supporter of our work.

What is curious about this communication is that this was only the second time we had ever communicated with Rabbi Lina and that the exhibition was but a small piece of the requested project A4I was to launch at Yale. We have had no further follow-up with our initial contacts and are too busy with our many other programs to be playing cat and mouse with a University with a history of censoring art and education.

However, we are concerned by the implication that A4I was potentially victimized by the aggressively anti-free speech and anti-free expression sentiment at Yale. Further, we are concerned by the implication that A4I's protection of the rights to free speech and free expression made us a pariah to this school. Even worse, we are worried by the potential implication that Yale used a Jewish source to serve as its henchman, rather than once again admit to eliminating a profound yet potentially dangerous group of thoughts and ideas to be presented.

We welcome Yale's response.

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