Israel-Hamas conflict, Art Censorship Index lists cases of censorship in the United States

UNITED STATES. As of October 8, 2023, dozens of cultural events have been canceled around the world, out of respect for the victims of the Hamas attack. In the following weeks, the cancellations continued but the reasons turned out to be more political: very often it was the opinion expressed by the artists on the conflict between the Israeli army and Hamas. For the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), it is necessary to keep track of these cases of “censorship”: the NCAC fights for freedom of expression in the United States in cultural and academic circles. Would these circles be more inclined than others to censor the words of artists and intellectuals? NCAC director, lawyer Lee Rowland, explains to Arts Journal that “Shortly after the horrific Hamas attack on October 7, the NCAC noted an increase in complaints from artists whose works had been excluded from exhibitions following their public comments on the Israel-Palestine conflict.” The NCAC therefore decided to create a map and an index of incidents because “part of our organization's work is to document trends in the censorship movement in the art world,” explains Lee Rowland.

Specific criteria

However, not all incidents linked to this conflict are cases of censorship, and the index was established according to precise criteria: it only includes cases where an institution has canceled, withdrawn or abandoned a program or work after having announced his presentation. Cases where artists have themselves modified their work, nor those where exhibition curators have excluded a work in advance, are not taken into account: the NCAC therefore considers cases where the responsibility of institutions is engaged. With these criteria, the index includes twenty-two cases since October 7, throughout the United States. New York City alone concentrates six cases, including the exclusion of a work by the artist Phil Garip containing the slogan “from the river to the sea”, (“from the sea to the Jordan”). In February 2024, those responsible for the exhibition at Urban Glass judged that it was a “call for violence”, because this sentence can be interpreted as an erasure of the State of Israel. The same sentence led to the prior exclusion of a giant sculpture planned for the Burning Man festival (Nevada) in August 2024. At Hunter College in New York, it is the documentary film Israelism which was canceled in mid-November 2023 because it criticizes unconditional support for Israel. The film was finally released in December, and in the meantime it had been screened by a group of students at Philadelphia University, despite opposition from the university's administration.

Phil Garip, You Must Live2024, neon.

© Phil Garip

Of the twenty-two cases of censorship, the majority concern works or programs expressing pro-Palestinian opinions but a few cases concern support for Israel: the reggae singer Matisyahu (Hasidic Jew) saw his concerts canceled in Arizona. and in New Mexico in February 2024 for controversial comments denounced by pro-Palestinian groups.

The conflict in the Middle East has, however, always sparked lively debates in the United States, and Lee Rowland notes that “the appearance of censorship after a violent attack is not a new phenomenon in the United States», citing September 11, 2001 and the censorship of Muslim artists. However, she insists on the importance for the NCAC “to archive this type of censorship in real time” with the index, but does not move forward to make an analysis of the phenomenon.

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