Sunday, September 09, 2007

I left my Art in San Francisco

A friend has passed me this message:

Dear friends and allies,
As you may know, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council are asking that the San Francisco Arts Commission force the youth artists of H.O.M.E.Y. to alter or remove the section of their mural that depicts Palestinian experience and resistance.

The mural is called: "Solidarity-Breaking Down Barriers" and is located in San Francisco's Mission District on 24th and Capp St. We are writing to ask for Jewish signatures on a petition that:
1) Supports the mural in its entirety,
2) Clearly states that the JCRC and ADL do not speak for all Jews, and
3) As Jews, we support struggles for self-determination and expression.

If you are receiving this and are not Jewish, we ask that you please forward to progressive Jews you may know. To read and sign the petition:
To view images of the mural and JCRC's Letter to the Art Commission:

If you feel so moved (Jewish or not) please write your own letter to the Arts Commission! Details on petition site. Many thanks!

In solidarity,


Now I'm no Art critic. I'm aware that depicting difficult political issues pictorially is not easy, and can miss both art and accuracy. So, fearing to find some crude or offensive statement on the San Francisco wall, I took a look, and saw only a colourful and artistic representation of people joined in making a breach in Israel's annexation or 'Apartheid' wall.

Highly apt, as the news came through this week of how joint action by Palestinians, Israeli peace activists and internationals, at Bil'in, had brought a legal breakthrough, however small, in the Israeli High Court, which has ruled that the fence must be resited from off the villagers' land. How appropriate the phrase about "solidarity - breaking down barriers" - thus linking the Palestinian experience with the overall theme of the San Francisco murals.

Reading the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council's letter, I could find no explanation as to why Jewish people or anyone else - other than the Israeli government -might be offended by this. Indeed, the JCRC letter goes into a defence of the Wall, or fence as they prefer, that could have been written by an official government spokesperson. Israel has an embassy in Washington and an active consulate in San Francisco. Why should it need the Jewish Community Relations Council or the Anti-Defamation League(ADL) to act as spokesmen and do their work?

Are there no real antisemites in California for the ADL to chase, instead of trying to censor a work of art that is about breaking down barriers between people? Indeed there are, for the US state is home to Holocaust deniers and other Nazis. But as we know the ADL spends much of its time defending the State of Israel and trying to silence critics, including Jews - hence it recently endorsed the decision by De Paul university to take away Norman Finkelstein's tenure as a professor. So it's no surprise it adds art censorship to its work.

The JCRC also complains that the mural shows a break in the wall in the shape of a "map of Israel", and that this is against a "two-state solution". In fact, what they call "Israel" is the shape of historic Palestine, before partition, so the JCRC seems a bit confused here as to what it wants. But if it is really upset by seeing an "Israel" without boundaries maybe it should complain to the Israeli government, which issues maps that do not distinguish between the State and the Occupied Palestinian territories.

If it is really keen on a "two state" policy it could oppose those US Zionist organisations that reject any kind of withdrawal and insist there can only be a "military solution". It could berate those people in the movie business who told a Palestinian film director that he could not label his film with its land of origin because "there's no such country as Palestine". That would show sincerity.

But in any case, having made their detailed defence of the Israeli Wall, the San Francisco JCRC shows its consistency by saying that the mural is inappropriate because it is concerned with events that are far away and nothing to do with San Francisco! "A far away country of which we know so little", as a British prime minister once said in quite another context. On the contrary, I'd say their response demonstrated that the theme of "solidarity -breaking down barriers" is quite relevant and necessary. It has to do with relations between communities.

Anyway, not wishing to rush into signing or promoting anything without checking the angles, I contacted Jewish Voice for Peace, a campaigning US organisation which happens to be mainly based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and this is what their guy says:

"Regarding the petition, you should note that the expression supporting the mural 'in its entirety' has been changed, in order to give room to the HOMEY collective either to keep the mural intact or to incorporate some minor changes. Jewish Voice for Peace supports the petition and the HOMEY collective, and we trust that they will make a decision that respects their democratic process and the integrity of their message. I have signed the petition myself. I personally have doubts that--given the local nature of this issue--the San Francisco Arts Commission will pay attention to signatories from outside San Francisco. But I may be wrong on this last point, so please go ahead and sign.Thanks!
______________________________________________________________Sydney Sydney Levy
Director of Chapters and Campaigns
Jewish Voice for Peace

That's good enough for me. And as for it being a local issue, I can respect that. But seeing the way the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the Bnai Brith Anti-Defamation League(ADL) have tried to interfere in the lives of Jewish communities and our politics, from Norway to Venezuela, and including London, I hope people in the Bay Area will understand if we have our say now on something happening 'Stateside.

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