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]?

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

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria