Ali Abunimah, Journalist

Author Ali Abunimah, who we hosted at a Firedoglake Book Salon on May 18th, has been rudely cancelled from giving an August 11th public talk on the book we featured, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, by the Evanston (Illinois) Public Library:

Evanston Public Library in the north shore suburbs of Chicago has canceled a talk I was scheduled to give on 11 August about my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

I consider this to be a politically motivated and blatant act of censorship.

It fundamentally contravenes the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights which states, among other things, that libraries “should challenge censorship” and “should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.”

I learned about the cancelation like everyone else, from a Tweet from the library’s account that my talk would be “rescheduled,” and from the fact that the event has been removed from its calendar.

I have written the following letter to the library’s Director:

Director Karen Danczak Lyons,

I was informed this morning that you have decided to cancel the upcoming book event featuring Ali Abunimah, who was to talk about his recent work, The Battle for Justice in Palestine.  In a Saturday tweet from Evanston Public Library’s Twitter account, it was announced that “We will reschedule Ali Abunimah’s talk. With this complex issue, we now plan to schedule more speakers on other dates too.” Apparently, the author found out about this cancellation through social media, rather than by a courtesy call from you or your staff.

On May 28th, I hosted Mr. Abunimah at Firedoglake’s weekly Book Salon.  The book salon’s editor understood that the book raises “complicated” questions, yet saw no need to cancel the author’s appearance or to “schedule more speakers” for some reason or another, to balance or offset what Mr. Abunimah has written about, or might have written in his salon comments.

Mr. Abunimah is a compelling writer, journalist and commentator.  I hope you are aware that in his many appearances over the past few months to speak or write about his book, no credible person has raised a single issue claiming Mr. Abunimah’s book is questionable in terms of accuracy, veracity or content.

To have cancelled this important voice on such a timely issue appears to me – and to a host of others – as blatant, perhaps even craven censorship.  The method of letting the word out on this cancellation through social media before ensuring the author had been informed should be held up as a sterling example of unprofessional behavior on your part, or on that of your staff.

Sincerely,

Philip Munger

Should you want to support Ali Abunimah, the Library Director’s work email address is director@epl.org.

Update – Monday morning:  Ali Abunimah updated his EI blog post to reflect that Lesley Williams, the library’s director of adult services has emailed him Friday, to notify him of the cancellation:

On Friday, I received an email from Lesley Williams, director of Adult Services at the library:

Dear Mr. Abunimah,

I am very sorry to have to write to you today. A few weeks ago, when I was talking to the Evanston Library administrative team about your appearance here, I told my director that I was looking for a pro Israeli speaker for sometime in the fall. She told me she would be more comfortable if we had that nailed down before your reading.

Today she told me that since I have not yet confirmed a pro Israel speaker she want[s] us to cancel your appearance on the 11th. This was of course an enormous shock. I am hoping she will allow us to still have the program, but sponsored by Neighbors for Peace and not as a library sponsored event, but merely a room rental.

Williams said that members of Neighbors for Peace were discussing that option, and added:

Please accept my abject apologies. I had no idea the program would be cancelled if I didn’t confirm an Israeli speaker before the 11th. I explained to her [the director] that re-scheduling a high profile writer and speaker like yourself will not be easy, but she is firm on the notion of “balance.”

I will keep you informed of what gets decided. Let’s hope for the best.

As noted, I learned from the library’s Twitter feed today that the event has now been canceled.

I called Ms. Williams this morning, noting that I had hosted the author here at one of our book salons in May, and that we felt no need to provide a so-called “pro-Israel” viewpoint to counter what the author has to say about his book or other events.

Update Two – Monday Evening, Cougar Mountain, Washington:

Late this afternoon, Evanston Library director Karen Danczak Lyons reported that she’d just spoken with Ali Abunimah by phone and that “we’re back on track.” The program has been rescheduled for the same date, August 11, at 7:00 PM in the large community room of the main library.

Danczak Lyons said she anticipates that demand may exceed capacity, and that tickets for the free event will be available at the library in advance; information about how to get them will be posted at the library website. She has also arranged for the program to be filmed, and Abunimah’s book will be available for purchase.

“This will be the first of a series of discussions that we’ll have in the coming months, which was always my intent, because this is an important topic,” she said. None of those programs have been scheduled yet.