A Broken Language, a Crippled
Debate, and the Gift of Art

The Difficulty of Talking About Palestine and Israel

Many Americans are aware of the rich moral, cultural, and intellectual accomplishments of Judaism. Most also are aware of the tragic history of the Jewish people: their long persecution, the horror of the Holocaust, and their creation of the state of Israel as a haven and homeland. Very few Americans are familiar with the contemporary history of the Palestinians: an occupied and exiled people who claim as their homeland the exact same land upon which Israel was built.

In fact, most Americans reflexively consider Palestinians in the negative. It has been the experience of Liberation Graphics that many Americans are hesitant to even look at posters created in solidarity with Palestine, on the assumption that they depict Jewish people as hideous enemies who are physically and morally inferior. It has been difficult to find a forum in which to display Palestinian poster art, because American gallery curators assume (often without actually seeing any of the posters) that they will be biased, inflammatory, and hateful. Americans have difficulty believing that such posters could have any aesthetic or educational value. They have tended to believe that these posters are against something — that they are against the Jewish people — rather than considering the possibility that they are for something — Palestinian self-determination. They fail to grasp that these posters have something valuable to teach them, not only about Palestine and Israel, but also about the state of free speech in America.

Artist: Sliman Mansour (Palestine)

There is another reason why Americans resist opening themselves to the Palestinian point of view: they are intimidated. They know that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is treacherous territory. They have processed the many signals telegraphing them to stay quiet. Experts who render opinions about this issue often do so in an opaque, off-putting linguistic code. Transparency is not always their objective, and opening up dialogue not always their mission. The prestige press and television’s punditry favor diplomats, generals, Senators, and university professors. They rarely feature the perspectives of ordinary people or people with dissenting views, thereby reinforcing an elites-only atmosphere. Credentials are often explicitly required before one is permitted to speak, and those without them are chastised for their ignorance or their lack of standing. Finally and most importantly, anyone who misspeaks risks having their reputation destroyed, for reasons that will be explained shortly.

As a result, dialogue on this issue has stayed in the hands of “adepts” — specialists, partisans, and policy makers — and this is exactly what they prefer. The arena of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a daunting and tremendously risky place for the uninitiated to venture into. Consequently, relatively few do.

Being Jewish Is Not the Same As Being Zionist!
Artist: Lisa Kokin (U.S.)

Surveys of American attitudes have documented the increased interest of Americans in world affairs, their intense concern for Middle East peace, and their desire for the U.S. government to be impartial in brokering a peace (Source: “Worldviews 2002,” September 2002, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund of the United States). Yet just a small fraction of the public actually engages in public dialogue or activity concerning this issue.

The hard-learned lesson, drawn from years of attempting to discuss and present Palestine solidarity poster art in the U.S., has been that there are four prerequisites that must be met before Americans can comfortably consider all perspectives related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. To begin with, they must understand the meaning of the term anti-Semitism. In order to understand that term, they need to understand the distinctions between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. In order to do that, they need to know what the term Zionism means. Only then can they begin to grasp Palestinian nationalism, the concept from which these posters spring.

Both anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism describe real social and political conditions. The problem is that there are complex and textured meanings attached to each term, and much disagreement over how, exactly, they relate to one other. Differences of opinion are so great that to some the terms anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are synonyms, while to others they are antonyms, hence the name of this exhibit: Antonym/Synonym.

Artist: Hilmi Al Touni (Egypt)

Next Section: Anti-Semitism — A Word With An Ugly History

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