The American Library Association Rejects Laura Ingalls Wilder While Embracing Anti-Semitic Poetry

July 12 2018

Last week, the Association for Library Services for Children, a branch of the American Library Association, made headlines when it changed the name of its Laura Ingalls Wilder award for children’s literature—because of the depiction of Native Americans found in the author’s Little House on the Prairie books. Yet, writes Emily Schneider, this newfound sensitivity to prejudice seems not to apply to anti-Semitism:

Last year’s recipient of the Wilder Award was the distinguished African-American author and poet Nikki Grimes. Grimes is the author of many critically acclaimed works, including one which is distorted by the most blatant and lurid anti-Semitic tropes. At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems of Easter accuses the Jewish people of venality, corruption, and hatred in the events surrounding the death of Jesus. The book closely follows the Gospels’ [depiction] of these events. The high priest Caiaphas is described as “a mongrel smelling blood.” The Pharisees and Sadducees are conflated as members of the same evil elite, and Pontius Pilate is a passive and blameless victim of the enraged Jews who force him to kill the messiah.

The book is composed of poems, each one prefaced by the author’s comments and suggestions for discussion. Grimes encourages children to think creatively about the motives for killing Jesus: “Why would false witnesses agree to provide a legitimate excuse to have an innocent person crucified? My guess is money. Perhaps there were other reasons. Any ideas?” The poems are accompanied by the illustrator David Frampton’s dangerously beautiful woodcuts, giving the story intense visual impact. One picture shows Jewish leaders’ holding coins and other treasures, which they would supposedly risk losing should Jesus and his followers triumph.

I have no doubt that Grimes did not set out to write a book offensive to Jews. Her Christian faith was the source of her deeply held beliefs about Jesus’ death. Grimes seems, [however], to accept uncritically, in spite of both contemporary sources and modern interpretations, that the Jews, not the Romans, were primarily responsible for the torture and death of Jesus. . . . [But] if Laura Ingalls Wilder cannot be exonerated by [the claim] that she merely expressed the norms of her time, how can Nikki Grimes, who wrote At Jerusalem’s Gate more than 70 years later, [be exonerated]?

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Children's books, New Testament

 

A University of Michigan Professor Exposes the Full Implications of Academic Boycotts of Israel

Sept. 26 2018

A few weeks ago, Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the University of Michigan told an undergraduate student he would write a letter of recommendation for her to participate in a study-abroad program. But upon examining her application more carefully and realizing that she wished to spend a semester in Israel, he sent her a polite email declining to follow through. His explanation: “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” and “for reasons of these politics” he would no longer write the letter. Jonathan Marks comments:

We are routinely told . . . that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study-abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. . . .

Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the [Michigan] student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights [and] freedom and to prevent violations of international law.”

Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney-Lippold could have found out by using Google. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent “resistance” but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.

That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an international day of solidarity with the “new generation of Palestinians” who were then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis—all civilians—dead.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Commentary

More about: Academia, Academic Boycotts, BDS, Israel & Zionism, Knife intifada