This post originally appeared in Mondoweiss on August 3.
I am life-long member of the Evanston Public Library. I was raised on library story-times and I wrote my first book reports within those walls. The librarians helped teach me how to research and write papers on revolutions, colonialism, the civil rights movement.
I was shocked and angered to hear the news this morning that the Evanston Public Library, my library, cancelled a scheduled talk on August 11 by Ali Abunimah about his book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine.
Mr. Abunimah is a Palestinian-American journalist and a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. His book discusses the failure of the two-state solution and explores the future of the movement for justice in Palestine.
I immediately called to inquire as to why the event was cancelled. I was told that the director of the library had determined that, since they were unable to schedule a pro-Israeli author to speak this fall, they would not move forward with Mr. Abunimah’s talk.
This decision reveals a nasty truth of how Palestine and Israel are discussed in the United States. The issue of Palestinian human rights is seen as not just political, but taboo. It is viewed, as the Evanston Public Library tweeted this morning, as a “complex issue”. Too complex, it would appear, to discuss.
The library chose to silence Mr. Abunimah’s opinion based on a simplistic notion of ‘balance’. I wonder if it would have cancelled a talk from someone who wrote a book on global warming if they couldn’t also schedule someone who would argue that it doesn’t exist. Or if they would prevent someone from speaking on the need for gun control if they couldn’t also have a pro-NRA author on the calendar.
I am ashamed that my library has denied Mr. Abunimah, and his audience, the opportunity for public conversation. Mr. Abunimah’s talk would have undoubtedly drawn people who both agree and disagree with his point of view. The resulting discussion would have been a healthy opportunity for the Evanston community to engage with one another. Now, more than ever, we should be encouraging one another to speak openly about our opinions on this issue, not to stay huddled in the shadows for fear of how our neighbors will respond.
It is not too late for the library to reverse this disappointing decision. I sincerely hope that they will.