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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Brandeis pulls artwork by Palestinian youths

Finally some sanity from - of all places - Brandeis University.

A 27-year old self-hating Israeli Jew made an 'art exhibit' out of paintings by 'Palestinian' youths as a final project. The exhibit was on display at the university for four days until someone woke up and realized that it was 'one-sided' and pulled it.

University officials said the paintings depicted only one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lior Halperin, the student who organized the exhibit, said the university censored an alternative view.

Now, Brandeis is embroiled in a debate about how to portray Palestinian perspectives on a campus where 50 percent of the students are Jewish and where passions about the Middle East run deep. Six to a dozen students at the Waltham university complained about the paintings, which were hung on Wednesday and removed Saturday.

The controversy occurs at a sensitive time for the campus, which has angered some students and Jewish groups with the appointment of a prominent Palestinian scholar and with a partnership with Al-Quds University, an Arab institution.

''This is outrageous," Halperin said yesterday. ''This an educational institution that is supposed to promote debate and dialogue. Let's talk about what it is: 12-year-olds from a Palestinian refugee camp. Obviously it's not going to be about flowers and balloons."

Halperin said she is working with an Arab student organization at MIT to display the 17 paintings there, as early as tomorrow.

Brandeis officials said they wanted to make sure the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is presented in a balanced manner.

''It was completely from one side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we can only go based on the complaints we received," said Dennis Nealon, a Brandeis spokesman. ''People were saying: (a) what is this; (b) what is it trying to say; and (c) should there be some sort of balancing perspective here?" Nealon said that the university would consider displaying the artwork again in the fall, alongside pieces showing the Israeli point of view.

Brandeis, a nonsectarian institution, was founded in 1948, by American Jews seeking to establish a university free from the quotas that Jews faced at elite colleges.

Halperin created the exhibit as her final project for a class called ''The Arts of Building Peace," which explores how music, painting, and poetry can help resolve conflicts. She contacted a friend who works in a refugee camp in Bethlehem and asked her to invite teenagers there to paint images of Palestinian life.


Dmitry B. Vilner, 19, a sophomore, said he found it ''utterly ludicrous to find these hung up with no explanation." Vilner said, ''I was very surprised that it would appear at Brandeis, because Brandeis is a traditionally Jewish, pro-Israel campus."

Vilner and his roommate, Alan D. Meyerson, 19, e-mailed an administrator to ask why the exhibit was on display. ''There's a certain line that's crossed when it no longer becomes a fair debate, but it becomes a one-sided attack against a nation and a people," Meyerson said, ''and that was very much the case with these images."

Last weekend, administrators in charge of student affairs decided that the paintings should come down, with the support of Daniel Terris, director of the university's International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life. The center sponsored Halperin's class. ''If students are reacting in a strong and negative way, with no context and no structure to have a meaningful conversation . . . you can do more harm than good," said Terris, who said he asked Halperin to voluntarily take the paintings down. ''I advised her that I thought it was undermining the long-term goal of making more space for Palestinian voices on campus."

On Saturday evening, after Halperin refused to stop the exhibit, administrators removed the artwork, provoking an immediate response. Students said they circulated e-mails debating whether the decision was about censorship, sensitivity, fairness, or cowardice.

The real question that's not being asked here is how a young Israeli Jew can develop such hatred of her own people and her own country. For those who don't yet know the answer, please allow me to suggest that you read the first 100 pages or so of Yoram Hazony's The Jewish State.


At 6:12 AM, Blogger Lois Koenig said...

And to think that my 8th or 9th grade Hebrew School class was taken in the early 1950's to hear David Ben Gurion zt'l give an address outdoors at a then very young Brandeis (founded in 1948, a very significant year).

Sadly, how much it has changed. How the display was even considered in the first place I cannot understand.


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