Columbia Faculty Boycott Bookstore After it Apologizes for Promoting Palestinian Violence

Professors want bookstore owners to rescind their apology

Butler Library at Columbia University
Butler Library at Columbia University / Wikimedia Commons
January 21, 2018

Over 200 Columbia University faculty, students, and alumni have pledged to boycott a New York bookstore after its owners apologized for promoting and selling a children's book that praised Palestinian violence against Israel.

The petition condemns Book Culture, an independent bookstore with a location near Columbia, for apologizing after Jewish and non-Jewish communities objected to its selling P is for Palestine by Golbarg Bashi, a book for young children that glorified the intifada.

The petition, first reported by Campus Reform, includes a refusal to buy books from or order course materials through Book Culture and a promise by faculty to remove their course books from the store.

The petition calls on the bookstore owners to "retract their statement and issue an apology for choosing to participate in the censorship and slander of already-underrepresented Palestinian voices."

The co-owners of Book Culture, Chris Doeblin, Annie Hedrick, and Rick MacArthur, apologized in a statement published Nov. 29 on the website of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue for the "pain and distress" caused by its funding the publication of and hosting an event for author Golbarg Bashi's book.

Of particular concern was the entry in the children's book for the letter "I," which celebrated the intifada as "Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup."

Periods of violence running from the late 1980s through early 2005, known as the first and second intifadas, were marked by Palestinian suicide bombings, shootings, and stabbings of Israelis on buses and in open-air markets and restaurants. Over 1,200 Israelis were killed.

"There was nothing romantic about the Intifada," read a letter to Book Culture from the Rabbis at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. "It was not some grand uprising to usher in an era of human rights, tranquility, and peace. It was not freedom fighting. The Intifada was the purposeful targeting of men, women, children, and babies in schools, hospitals, restaurants, pubs, dance halls, buses, trains, theaters, hotels hosting weddings, bar mitzvahs, and Passover seders—any place a crowd of Israelis gathered."

Doeblin, Hedrick, and MacArthur, subsequently affirmed that they "oppose terrorism or other forms of violence perpetrated against Israeli civilians during the intifada or thereafter." They also clarified that they do not endorse the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement to delegitimize Israel.

The Columbia petitioners insist a conflation of "'intifada' with 'terrorism,' distorts the complexity of the first and second intifadas as massive, multifaceted periods of grassroots mobilization against Israeli apartheid, occupation, and ethnic cleansing."

"The term 'intifada' cannot be provincialized to acts of violence, nor can it be reduced to 'terrorism.' Such a notion is better suited to describe decades of state-sanctioned terror and colonization that have characterized the Palestinian experience of Zionism," reads the petition.

Most of the faculty signatories are affiliated with the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies—including Iranian studies professor Hamid Dabashi, husband of the author of P is for Palestine.

The effort to boycott, organized by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine and Barnard/Columbia Jewish Voice for Peace, would likely lead to the closure of Book Culture, according to store co-owner Doeblin.

Doeblin told Campus Reform he and his co-owners' mission is to offer customers "books that both support and oppose any and all of one's ideas."

"The ground between Israeli and Palestinian views is a difficult place to find footing," he said. "We refuse to be used and politicized by any side."

Bashi is currently attempting to fund a second run of her book.

 In response to Bashi's book, an early childhood educator and Zionist activist Melissa Landa published I is for Israel. The volume, targeted to a similar audience of children aged 5-7, includes entries like "'A' for Israel's army, the IDF," and "'E' is for Ethiopian Jews, for whom Israel is home."