Public outrage brewed from the Jewish community in Highland Park, New Jersey, and surrounding areas when the Highland Park Public Library announced a May 19 picture-book author event with Golbarg Bashi, author of “P Is for Palestine.” The event has since been “postponed,” pending a May 20 meeting of the library’s board of trustees, to which the public has been invited.
The controversial book, first published in 2017, has met with resistance and concern since its initial printing. The alphabet book illustration for “I” for example, which stands for “Intifada,” shows "a father and child, wearing the keffiyah, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, standing near barbed wire, a symbol of 'Israeli oppression,' and flashing the V-for-victory sign. Victory over Israel, that is," wrote Stephen Flatow, whose daughter Alisa, then 21, was murdered during an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack on an Israeli bus in 1995, in a review of the book.
Bashi, an Iranian professor of Middle Eastern history at Rutgers University and the wife of outspoken anti-Israel Professor Hamid Dabashi, isn’t new to controversy. On November 27, 2017, Bashi defended her book in a Facebook statement, which included the following: "P is for Palestine, and I is for Intifada. It would be irresponsible of an author of a book for Palestinian children (e.g. Native American children) to ignore or whitewash the fact that their people have a resistance movement, most of which is manifested in peaceful protest."
“Intifada means resistance and resilience against the global and the UN condemnation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine—it is a daily component of Palestinian life that is manifested in carrying the signs and symbols of Palestinian life with pride—carrying a Palestinian flag, wearing a Palestinian dress, cooking a Palestinian dish, protecting a Palestinian olive tree from being bulldozed etc are all examples of Intifada,” she wrote. “Being bulldozed,” which she mentions but does not explain, is generally what happens to terrorists’ homes when they are found to have murdered Israeli civilians.
Throughout social media discussions on several Jewish community Facebook groups, all seem to agree “Intifada” connotes two separate bouts of prolonged Palestinian violence and terror, from 1987 to 1991 and 2000 to 2005, during which some 1,300 Israeli civilians were killed and hundreds of Palestinians died as well, though many became victims of their own suicide attacks.
Locals learned of the event this past weekend, immediately after Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched nearly 700 rockets from Gaza at Israel, killing four people and injuring more than 200.
Josh Pruzansky has lived in Highland Park for 20 years. “My children have all had an enjoyable time using our local library. I am disappointed by the decision of the library staff to invite an author who includes "I for Intifada" in her book "P is for Palestine" to our library to speak to our children. Highland Park is a community that is proud of its diversity and tolerance, and nobody is advocating against the inclusion of any religion in our library. We are advocating against violence, which the Intifada is all about,” he told The Jewish Link.
Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg is a 30-year Edison resident and a former pulpit rabbi. “Teaching Intifada to brainwash terrorists early on, as toddlers, to blast rockets and kill Jewish people, this is the meaning of Intifada. We have witnessed violent Intifada against Israel with rockets flying all last week. Hamas called for a renewed uprising against Israel, a violent Intifada. This isn’t a children’s book. It’s a book to train terrorists who are only young enough to learn the alphabet.”
Shocked community members began discussing this on social media when Rachel Kaplan shared information about the event on a local Facebook group, Frum HP/Edison, last Sunday. Questions regarding who had organized such an event were posed, with several noting that there appeared to be ties between the author event and the Jewish Voice for Peace.
About an hour and a half later, the event disappeared from The Highland Park Library event page. Screen shots were shared on the Frum HP/Edison group.
On a public thread posted by anti-Zionist Sakina Ali, it was stated that the May 19 event was funded by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a extreme leftist political organization that refers to the Israeli/Palestinian disputed territory as “Israeli occupation.”
A poster named Mohammad Ali Naquvimoh asked, “Any idea why they decided to hold the book reading in Highland Park? That’s a highly Jewish area. Was it to push the envelope? Just curious."
This comment was answered by Yeou-Shiuh Hsuy: “There are a lot of reasons, and I won't go into detail all of them 'cos they were part of JVP-Central NJ chapter meeting discussions, but members of our local chapter have long, deep relationships with the Highland Park Public Library, so they reached out to the library, and was able to co-sponsor in full. The library also wanted books that better reflect the diversity of their residents. In fact the library was very enthusiastic and positive about the book, we shared a copy of the book for them to read.”
On Monday, May 6, when Highland Park Public Library was asked if Jewish Voice for Peace had anything to do with this event, the woman who answered the phone hung up immediately.
Pruzansky said, “I hope this is an isolated incident and not part of a larger agenda that goes beyond our town. We would be surprised if we were being used as a sort of a test case, pushing the envelope type of scenario. We were shocked to learn that an institution funded with our property tax dollars would open their doors to hate.”
Hate, indeed is the focus of the BDS movement, which many of the book's proponents support. Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), defended the book in a review on Amazon.com: “‘P is for Palestine’ is exactly the kind of positive reinforcement needed by children whose identity is constantly under attack.” USCPR, however, is an organization coordinates the efforts of 329 different pro-BDS organizations, helps to facilitate tax-exempt donations “to a Palestinian coalition that includes Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups the U.S. State Department designates as terror organizations,” according to an exposé last year spearheaded by Tablet Magazine. The book also received advance praise from controversial Palestinian rights activists including Linda Sarsour, who openly sympathizes with terrorists and is hostile to Israel. In a tweet by Sarsour dating back to Oct. 31, 2012, she famously declared, “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
The Highland Park Public Library said the following: “Due to extraordinary public response about the ‘P is for Palestine’ author talk, we would like our patrons to know what we are doing. In line with the Highland Park Public Library’s policy dealing with patrons’ objections to library materials, the matter has been referred to the Highland Park Public Library Board of Trustees. The Board will take it up at its next regularly scheduled meeting, as required by the policy. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 20, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. in the Library conference room and is open to the public. In the meantime, the program has been removed from the schedule, pending the Board’s final decision.”
“I am hopeful the library's board of trustees will do the right thing and rescind the invitation to this author, and instruct the staff to be more vigilant on who they invite to speak to our children,” said Pruzansky.
Rochelle Kipnis is a freelance writer based in Central New Jersey.