|8/27/2014 1:54:00 PM|
Analysis: Support the Public Library
By Shawn Jones
Evanston’s Public Library endured an unwarranted and unnecessary attack recently, one that painted the library as well as the City in a bad light, thanks to the brutal, swift judgment of social media and activist groups. The incident, truly a non-issue blown out of proportion by a combination of misrepresentation and clumsy handling, serves as a lesson. Changes, positive changes one hopes, will result, and the community can be better and stronger for it.
Here’s what happened: The Library scheduled author Ali Abunimah to read from his work, “The Battle for Justice in Palestine,” on Aug. 11 (having been rescheduled from Aug. 4 for unclear reasons). Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons, the very person who approved the reading in the first place, felt that the reading should be part of a larger discussion about the complicated Palestine-Israel issue. Additional events placing Mr. Abunimah’s reading in historical and political context, it was felt, would give the reading greater impact and allow for more thorough and nuanced discussions.
Next came the clumsiness. A Library employee allegedly wrote Mr. Abunimah an email on Aug. 1 saying in part, according to Mr. Abunimah’s blog: “Today [Director Lyons] told me that since I have not yet confirmed a pro Israel speaker she want[s] us to cancel your appearance on the 11th…. I had no idea the program would be cancelled if I didn’t confirm an Israeli speaker before the 11th…”
When such incendiary terms as “pro-Israel” and “canceled” landed at his feet, the author, said Library Board member Diane Allen, “saw the opportunity to use this to his advantage, which he did.” Social media lit up – library and activist message boards castigated the Library. The timing, on a Friday and a Saturday in mid-summer vacation season, limited the Library’s ability to deal with this issue immediately. By the following Monday, Aug. 4, a press conference was scheduled on the Library steps at which Neighbors for Peace, the group sponsoring Mr. Abunimah’s talk, accused the library of censorship and participation in the “Palestinian taboo” – the idea that speech about the plight of Palestinians is suppressed repeatedly.
The Library denies all of this. “All I ever said – other than ‘yes’ – to Neighbors for Peace [is that] we would like to bring in additional credible voices who have something to add to the discussion,” said Ms. Lyons. Asked if she insisted on a pro-Israel viewpoint or an Israeli speaker, Ms. Lyons was unequivocal. “That’s completely false,” she said. “There’s not a shred of truth to that… Evanston Public Library is a place where we should be able to come together and share differing views.”
After all, the Library scheduled Mr. Abunimah’s reading in the first place and never “canceled” it. Having watched Mr. Abunimah’s reading, which took place as scheduled on Aug. 11 and is now available for all to see on the Library’s website, it is clear that a larger program, providing context, history and an academic perspective, would have heightened the impact of Mr. Abunimah’s words and not “censored” them. Context allows for dialogue, debate, access to more information, and informed analysis of a complex issue. A single voice such as Mr. Abunimah’s, valuable when placed next to other views and historic perspectives, loses much of its power in a vacuum. Rescheduling would have allowed a more comprehensive debate.
Neighbors for Peace and Mr. Abunimah, rather than welcoming the opportunity to expand their audience and bring in more speakers, chose instead to attack. Some blog posts actually accused Ms. Lyons of participating in the current Gaza massacre. There seemed no end to the vitriol, even after it was revealed that the event, never canceled, would indeed proceed as planned on Aug. 11.
All of the uproar ignored all of the good things the Library has done and continues to do for the community. As was evident at the Library Board’s meeting on Aug. 20, the Library continues to serve as a modern “public square.”
A deeply moving series of recent conversations on youth violence based on the book “How Long Will I Cry?” engaged the community and gave an outlet for a grieving population to share and learn. Michael Rice, grandfather of slain youth Dajae Coleman, appeared at the Board’s Aug. 20 meeting to personally thank them for the programming, and for “being a partner with the family” and for “doing their part.”
The National Able Network also presented its success stories to the Library Board. Located on the third floor of the Library, NAN offers job counseling, resume critiques, computer training and other resources for job seekers. According to the presentation, the average age of those helped is 50, 40% of whom do not know how to use a computer and 70% of whom are female. NAN is able to help people get real, lasting jobs through grammar, cover letter and keyboard workshops in addition to resume and interviewing assistance. “It’s exciting work, fun work and it’s extremely satisfying,” said the presenter.
Director Lyons has called the program a “wonderful partnership, a wonderful synergy.”
Last year, the Library hosted the Muslim Journeys series, exploring the Muslim faith over coordinated events spanning the year. Muslim Journeys II picks up this year where the first series left off. Programming truly presents different voices and encourages community education and debate.
Library Board President Michael Tannen refused to use the Aug. 20 Board meeting to dwell on the Abunimah event other than to express the board’s unfaltering support for Director Lyons and to praise the staff’s handling of the event itself. The others on the Board, without exception, agreed with many offering thanks and praise of their own.
“We have an amazing staff,” said Ms. Lyons.
Some of the bitter taste caused by the brief controversy remains, however. Charges of censorship are never easy to combat. “It’s clear to me,” said Mr. Tannen, “that there was no censorship or suppression of speech at all...” Accusing a library director of censorship is akin to accusing a physician of ignoring the Hippocratic Oath, or a lawyer of ethics violations, he said. But once a censorship accusation is leveled, it cannot be easily dispelled.
Some outsiders who hear the word Evanston will now remember us as the community that censored a Palestinian writer. While this is neither fair nor right, it reflects the nature of our blogger culture these days. Facts matter less than perception. Ms. Lyons said the incident “certainly demonstrates that no matter the form of communication, it is important to confirm the source,” something the Library teaches all researchers who use its facilities.
It is clear that the Library has learned a valuable lesson about email and other electronic communications. “We are going to look internally at how we communicate, who communicates and what the communication says,” said Ms. Lyons. When a communication goes out will undoubtedly get addressed as well.
It is also clear that Evanston should support and be proud of its Public Library, and we should not stand by as outsiders accuse us, unjustly, of censorship or whisper about a conspiracy controlling Library programming. The Library – deep in mourning over the recent loss of a much loved employee to a bike accident, emerging from a long and often painful separation from City government to stand on its own, changing with the electronic revolution times – should not have had to deal with unfounded attacks.
But they did. And by all accounts they handled the brief uproar with grace and skill, bringing off the reading without incident.
We should all be proud of our Public Library. And we should rally around our Library and challenge inaccurate voices that attack it should something like this ever occur again. Evanston has the thriving, growing, nimble “public square” of a Library it deserves, and we as a community need to support and defend it.
Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2014
For his comment “Analysis: Support the Library,” Steve Jones reverses the roles of the participants in the lead up to the August 11th author /book program where Ali Abunimah read from his book “The Struggle for Justice in Palestine.” - audio ( http://radio4all.net/index.php/program/76772 )
Supporting the library is exactly what the community did in challenging Director Lyons' decision to cancel, on short notice, the August 11th reading because it, along with the author, interpreted the cancellation as an act of censorship due to the subject of the book – the struggle for justice in Palestine. Their analysis holds up even if, taken at her word, Ms. Lyons didn't intend it as such and merely wanted the “complicated” issue to have a more “nuanced discussion,” according to Steven Jones.
As I see it, Director Lyons and the EPL are indebted to the activist community that Steve Jones tries to smear: social justice, human rights and peace activists, as well as EPL patrons indignant at the notion that they were incapable of thinking for themselves without the Directors' “nuanced” guidance. Their quick response brought the matter to public attention such that the general outpouring of support for Mr. Abunimah's program convinced Lyons to reverse her last-minute cancellation. Whatever “bad light” Jones perceives the library to have endured during the Director's lapse of clear thinking, it is minor when compared to what would have resulted had she not reversed her decision.
The public library is more than the Director, its board, or wealthy donors. At a time when financially vulnerable public institutions are susceptible to the corruption of their integrity by private donors, it is hardly surprising that the community perceived her last-minute decision as bending to the influence of people who are positioned to and active in preventing the public airing of a narrative counter to the “official” Israeli one.
As others have observed, Mr. Jones' "no big deal" version of events reads like a PR agent's efforts to camouflage a self-inflicted blemish. But it was hardly the “non issue” he claims, as what was really being “blown out of proportion by a combination of misrepresentation and clumsy handling” were the human beings in Gaza. They made the coincidence of the reading even more significant for the rest of us who seek some understanding and agency in stopping the killing and violence that Israeli claims as its extra legal, extra moral right, to insure its majority status in another people's land.
So I agree with Mr. Jones that an unwarranted and unnecessary attack was recently endured, but not by the EPL or the City of Evanston. Criticism, harsh words, and the nasty emails that he alludes to and conflates with activist groups as a smear, hardly represent the “brutal[ality]” which Evanstonians and the entire world witnessed directly, day after day, ahead of the reading. The brutality exposed both Israeli and the US government who funds and arms it's military, to the well deserved bad light reflecting of the war crimes and human rights violations both engaged in.
. Social media, the Internet, and (heavens!) even the press were resorted to in order to get the word out. It would seem these were all appropriate avenues, given the results.
Again, it was hardly the non-event Mr. Jones would stear us to think it, for the real disgrace to the EPL and by extension the City of Evanston would have been if still unidentified persons had succeeded in undermining the library's integrity with a cancellation or irrational postponement of the reading. Neighbors for Peace and the EPL Adult Education Director had jointly invited Ali Abunimah to give the author/ book reading it had been in the works for over two months. The sudden concern that library patrons needed a larger program to understand the “complex” issues with a postponement and then requiring the author to share the event should be recognized in itself as a form of censorship under the circumstances. To my knowledge no other topics suffer such a requirement. And since it was not, according to Director Lyons, her intent to have a “pro-Israeli” voice in a larger program, would it have necessitated locating an author whose book argued for injustice in Palestine?” Will every topic now require this kind of larger context? Need Steven Hawkins, should he be available to speak on cosmology, share the program with Creationists?
I personally commended Director Lyons for recovering her professionalism and having the strength of character to reverse the last minute cancellation. But Mr. Jones' rewriting of events and the attempt to obfuscate just how close the library came to destroying its integrity make me think that an in-service workshop for the Board and the Director by the American Library Association would be a sound investment in the future of intellectual freedom at the EPL.
Mr. Jone's quixotic suggestion that he martyr himself by offering to shield the EPL and Evanstonians from further nasty emails related to the affair is to me in keeping with his analysis. But rather than tilt at windmills, I think his courage better tested if he helped organize more speakers and that larger program about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Director Lyons is committed to, according to her conversation with those who met with her ahead of the press conference. Here is a list of authors, that include both Israelis and US Jews that I recommend to start the expanded dialog: Max Blumenthal, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel Joel Kovel, “Beyond Zionism” Michel Warschawski, “ Toward an Open Tomb:The Crisis of Israeli Society”, and Miko Peled, "The General's Son.”
No single program could do this “taboo” topic justice and it would make sense to have it extend over months as was done with the many important programs Director Lyons has introduced to the EPL.
Posted: Friday, September 5, 2014
To be clear: Mr. Jones' statement declaring the Evanston Public Library (EPL) was attacked is an opinion. It is the opinion of Neighbors for Peace that the issue was not dealt with properly and the story the director provided after the weekend of controversy was not believable. How we choose to interpret facts surrounding any controversy creates our opinions. So hopefully Mr. Jones can understand why my interpretation of his article may be different from what he intended to communicate.
I stand behind my original comments. It is our belief that people who wanted to have Mr. Abunimah's talk reinstated protested a poorly thought-out decision by the library’s director and possibly others she works with. I have nothing against Ms. Lyons. Though many of us don’t know her personally, I know people who speak of her highly and consider her work for EPL to be admirable. We were criticizing a decision, which may have been made in conjunction with others who have a different agenda from the Library’s. We’ll never know who the individuals were, but Ms. Lyons is on record for saying the event should be canceled. That is all we have to go on, and she has never named anyone else in this controversy, to her credit. However, as fine a director as she may be, Ms. Lyons is not the Library. We can agree that EPL serves the community well in many aspects, even in presenting past speakers in conjunction with Neighbor for Peace.
Mr. Jones may call the actions taken after the August 1st cancellation an attack because others with their own agenda and poor judgment allegedly posted malicious claims about Ms. Lyons and the board, but hasn’t provided his readers with a link to these posts, which seems to be the evidence for his claims of attack. And I grant they may not be necessary, because they detract from the argument about free speech and human rights. These issues were central to our concerns in scheduling Mr. Abunimah to speak from his book, “The Battle for Justice in Palestine”. Again people make decisions for the Library, which is an institution that exists independent of the specific individuals that work there. People create policy, and people receive all kinds of challenges when that policy appears to be unjust. I don't speak for anyone other than as a member of a specific coalition of activists who wanted to ensure that Mr. Abunimah’s voice was heard in Evanston and attempts to censor him fail.
Yes, there definitely are people out there on the Internet who will say anything and attack anyone for the sake of controversy. They don't have to belong to a group or even be an activist they just need to know how to get on the web and type. To make a general claim of attack and discuss activists from certain groups in one lump sum obfuscates the facts. We are not a monolith.
Mr. Jones may consider the press conference regarding free speech at the Library to be an attack. If so we will have to agree to disagree. Perhaps he thinks the other civil and thoughtful emails and phone calls the Library received over that weekend expressing concern and support for Mr. Abunimah to be attacks as well. He will have to let us know. The fact that he can't or won't distinguish between protest and attack seems to the basis of our disagreement.
Among the groups supporting Mr. Abunimah's talk there was much debate over how to respond to what we considered to be a crisis. Some of us wanted to protest the decision publicly. Others wanted to deal with things quietly in a private discussion with Ms. Lyons. Others wanted the whole matter dropped.
The tweet that supposedly resolves everything actually reinforces the idea that they did not want Mr. Abunimah to speak. A “rescheduling” still meant the August 11 date had been canceled.
The tweet from the Library’s general account said we WILL (my emphasis) reschedule, a statement made after the cancellation, not “we have already rescheduled”. The next sentence reads, "we now plan to schedule more speakers on other dates too." The time frame is clear: based on this tweet, the library had NO plans to create a series up until this moment. And if they did, they did not share this plan with anyone else. More importantly they did not say this directly to Mr. Abunimah and the organizers of the event. Mr. Jones may be content with this style of communication in conducting business. But since only 2 members of Neighbors for Peace ever access Twitter (and then only occasionally) we would never have known this without some outside party informing us of the tweet. Our opinion is that the library behaved dishonorably at this point. If it was a blunder, then so be it. Maybe there was a miscommunication. However, my central point is that the story provided after the attempted cancellation does not jibe with the facts before the Friday decision to cancel.
A tweet given from the general account of the library on a Saturday to the general public does not override a phone call and a personal email from a trusted source. How could anyone of concern be remotely guaranteed to find it among all the tweets out there? While Mr. Abunimah may use twitter to communicate certain stories and events, or even use a proxy to send his tweets, the Library has no idea if he follows their tweets.
Mr. Abunimah, who is familiar with the tactics of institutions who want to suppress Palestinians’ viewpoint of Israel’s occupation, clearly saw the link between this attempt to “reschedule” his talk, (especially as it was not the first time they wanted to reschule) and the usual attempt to silence critics of Israel. In fact, on August 6 Steven Salaita, former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor was refused tenure for tweeting messages criticizing Israel. He is also known to support the boycott Israel movement. It is ironic that this decision by UIUC to rescind an offer of tenure to Mr. Salaita took place during the time we were negotiating with the library concerning Mr. Abunimah's talk the following week. http://electronicintifada.net/content/salaita-firing-shows-where-zionism-meets-neoliberalism-us-universities/13826
Other academics have been similarly punished for daring to challenge the unconditional support Israel enjoys among universities in the U.S. Is it any wonder that the colleagues and peers of Mr. Abunimah also contacted the EPL with their concerns, even if they’d read the tweet regarding this “rescheduling”.
Whatever the intent of the Library, what people read and heard is the basis for their protest and outrage. We can also agree that it was settled to the satisfaction of the parties involved, so why this article was written with such a generalized criticism that paints the EPL as a victim is a bit of a puzzle. If it’s because of continued persecution, it would help if Mr. Jones could specify who is still attacking after the central issue was settled.
As for my naming Ms. Williams: There is no indication that this email was intended to be secret or private. Obviously if a public event is to be canceled the notice of cancellation can’t be considered private. Does Mr. Jones believe that people should have shown up on August 11 and then find out that the talk had been canceled or rescheduled? Finally, anyone who knows how to use the Internet can easily access Mr. Abunimah’s blog and make the connection between the sender of the “incendiary email” and the Director of Adult Services at EPL. Either you implicate Ms. Williams or you suggest that Mr. Abunimah is lying when he references her. So I have no problem mentioning Ms. Williams since she has done her job, and done it in an exemplary manner.
Mr. Jones final claim is misleading and not provable: "...certain groups chose to attack the library, and by extension the City of Evanston and its residents, without the slightest hesitation when doing so furthered a particular agenda or belief system." He should realize people will accuse him of the very same motivation in his attack against “certain groups”. Many who protested the cancellation are citizens of Evanston and they felt slighted by the people who run their library. As I stated in one email when questioned about the event page Neighbors for Peace posted on Facebook and its connection to the Library:
"As a final point I must disagree with you on the assertion that the Library does not have a viewpoint: as a public institution funded by the City of Evanston, your mission is something along the lines of serving the community, supporting the spreading of knowledge and information, and providing vital internet access to everyone regardless of economic status, age, race, religion, etc... the majority of people who make up these peace groups are citizens of Evanston, a neighboring suburb, or the Chicago's North side who regard the speaker as someone who has very important information to share about how U.S. tax dollars are being spent overseas and who has a very limited platform. I'm sure there are a few out there who would want to privatize a library, monetize all its services and hold events that only shareholders would approve of instead of the stakeholders in the community. Considering the amount of misinformation we all get from the mass media - private institutions owned by large corporations that seek profits in all their enterprises - hearing independent voices who will never be heard on Corporate news channels seems to be what public places were made for. To me that's a good bias, because it tilts in the favor of democracy by creating an informed citizenry. So for that, we are grateful to EPL for opening a space for a man most of us would never hear from if some people adverse to building democracy had their way."
Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2014
Mr. Jones states that "The story is the reaction that followed [Karen Danczak Lyons' reinstatement of the program]," and about the struggle that occurred leading up to that reinstatement, Mr. Jones says "That is not the story here". Well, I think it's fair to say the story about the struggle leading up to the reinstatement is "taboo" according to Mr. Jones.
First about Neighbors For Peace's "reaction" to the reinstatement by DIrector Lyons of Mr. Abunimah's talk. Our response was not a reaction at all. It was planned days in advance. At an emergency meeting on Sunday, Aug 3rd, that was announced and open to all, it was decided unanimously that Neighbors for Peace would go ahead with the press conference given any one of the following three possible outcomes of the next 40 hours.
1- if the event were still cancelled and Director Lyons would not meet with us, we would hold the press conference stating our position and demanding a reversal.
2 - if the event were still cancelled and Director Lyons would meet with us in advance, we would hold the press conference and report our position and what we had learned from Director Lyons and demand a reversal.
3 - if the event were reinstated as originally planned, and whether or not we had met with Director Lyons, we would still go ahead with the press conference and report the Neighbors for Peace long established position that brought us into this struggle and also, if it were the case that we met with her, report what we had just learned from Director Lyons. For the press conference we utilized the term "The Palestine Taboo" that Mr. Abunimah had so aptly coined, and that "A Temporary Breakthrough is Not Enough". It was not a hostile reaction against people or institutions. It was a rationally developed plan towards working for real humanitarian change.
The press conference was not on Wednesday as Mr. Jones reported, it was on Tuesday morning immediately following our meeting with Director Lyons. We did not know before then what was behind the "mishandling" of the events' cancellation, and as of today, one month later, we still do not know what is behind the "mishandling" of the event, as Director Lyons specifically stated, in our meeting, she would not go into the "mishandling" with us. And as Karen Pallist has reported in her clarifying comment below, and as Mr. Abunimah has reported on his blog, we are left with what evidence we have to come up with the most likely analysis of this initial "taboo" stage of this story.
It does appear, though, that the chairmanship of the EPL board has changed. When I checked today, Ben Shapiro is still listed online as President, and Mr. Tannen is Secretary.
On another note, it is sad to report that Rabbi Brant Rosen, who was originally scheduled to introduce Mr. Abunimah at his event, but did not, has resigned from the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. I have no idea if that has any relationship to Mr. Abunimah's event and its "mishandling" by EPL.
Rabbi Rosen has become a beacon of humanitarianism shining the way for the waves of Palestinian hope that crash unmercifully upon the rocky political billboards put up all around the U.S. stating unequivocally: "We Stand With Israel". And to be preemptive of a reaction to this metaphorical idea, if this previous sentence of mine is to be interpreted as an attack upon Judaism, then the term attack has become meaningless.
To sum it up, Neighbors for Peace's position and our desire to hold a press conference to explain that position is far more established and well founded than it being what some believe was an opportunistic attack. We have been speaking out against inhumanities in Palestine for years. Karen Pallist's article (comment) does a good job in giving the reader further insight into what Neighbors for Peace stands for, and that includes standing up in a strong humanitarian spirit for ourselves as well as others all around the globe.
I would also like to add that Neighbors for Peace is not a bunch of "outsiders". We started in Evanston thirteen years ago this month and remain here. Our open and free membership has expanded to include people from adjacent cities.
Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2014
The last two posts actually reinforce the article's central point rather than discrediting it.
First, a reminder: the program co-sponsored by Neighbors for Peace went on as scheduled, where scheduled, with the scheduled speaker presenting. You would think, based upon that one basic fact, that the sponsors would be at least satisfied, if not happy.
I bring this up because the article's central point is that certain groups chose to attack the library, and by extension the City of Evanston and its residents, without the slightest hesitation when doing so furthered a particular agenda or belief system.
They did so regardless of the actual facts on the ground -- there were cries of 'cancellation' and 'censorship' when nothing was canceled and nothing censored. Here is the "tweet" from the library, quoted on the blog linked to Ms. Pallist's post:
"We will reschedule Ali Abunimah's talk. With this complex issue, we now plan to schedule more speakers on other dates too."
The tweet, the only statement from the library that was intended for the public, followed what was meant to be a private email between a library employee and Mr. Abunimah.
My article did not name the library employee who sent Mr. Abinumah the email on Friday afternoon, and I will let readers determine how to reconcile Ms. Pallist's account with Mr. Abinimah's as to what that library employee communicated to whom and when. That is not the story here. The story is the reaction that followed.
Friday the email Saturday the library tweet and then all weekend long the incendiary blog posts across a host of media venues including Mr. Abunimah's electronicintifada. Monday, the public announcement that the program would proceed as scheduled. That it had never been canceled. That nothing was censored. Then Wednesday a press conference decrying (near) censorship.
It was wrong to attack the library as a censor. It was wrong to accuse the library of canceling a program under pressure from pro-Israel groups. It was wrong to put a political agenda ahead of the reputation of our City and our public library when the speaker actually spoke and the agenda was actually fulfilled. It was wrong to attack.
Now that an article has been written saying it was wrong to attack first, one can hardly be surprised by the response.
Attack some more!
Well, I would rather bear the brunt of the attack myself than stand idly by while forces needlessly and wrongly attack my library and my City.
I stand by my article. Feel free to attack me for it.
It is somewhat ironic, however, that my article is attacked for a lack of balance, a lack of two sides, for "giving one side of the story," (anything else is "an opinion masquerading as news," says Ms. Pallist) when the library was attacked so viciously for seeking to "balance" Abunimah's presentation.
For the record, the RoundTable spoke with Ms. Williams, Mr. Abunimah, Mr. Trippel, and Ms. Danczak Lyons. Most everything in my article came from public comments, including the Library Board public meeting (all Mr. Tannen's quotes are public comments), blog posts, and the Neighbors for Peace press conference.
I heard from all sides before writing my analysis.
Also, to be fair, Mr. Trippel takes issue with the assertion that there was an attack. I respect his reading of the situation even if I disagree with it, and his post made me think and reexamine my position somewhat.
Thank you, Dave. If you want evidence supporting the use of the term "attack," go to Mr. Abunimah's blog and comments to it linked to Ms. Pallist's post. There are many other sources, including EPL's own Facebook page.
Posted: Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Your article tells a somewhat compelling story about what happened with the Library’s handling of the Ali Abunimah event, except that it’s wrong. Your analysis is inaccurate and misleading. To complete this article, you spoke with board member Dave Tannen and with Director Karen Danczak Lyons. There was no contact made with any Neighbors for Peace member to provide context. Giving one side of a story is not an analysis, nor is it journalism. I can only assume this is an opinion masquerading as news.
You went so far as to imply that we attempted to ruin Ms. Lyons character:
“Neighbors for Peace and Mr. Abunimah, rather than welcoming the opportunity to expand their audience and bring in more speakers, chose instead to attack. Some blog posts actually accused Ms. Lyons of participating in the current Gaza massacre. There seemed no end to the vitriol, even after it was revealed that the event, never canceled, would indeed proceed as planned on Aug. 11.”
Mr. Jones, do you have the entry on this blog post that called Karen D. Lyons a participant in the Gaza massacre? It would be nice to know exactly what was said and exactly who wrote it - though that may upset your argument. I find it highly unlikely that any Neighbors for Peace member would make such an absurd accusation. The fact that you attempt to conflate our group, Mr. Abunimah and individuals expressing hateful opinions in unnamed blog posts makes me question your credibility and why you seem so bent on attacking our group. You also imply that we knew that this was merely another rescheduling and chose to undermine our own program with an attack on the Library. No one at Neighbors for Peace is that dumb or thoughtless. I can't begin to figure out why Mr. Abunimah would want to undermine an event that featured his book on Palestine, so you will also have to clarify what was going on in our minds when we made this serious error in judgment.
What I find most tragic about this article is how Mr. Jones “analysis” bends over backwards to defend the decisions of the director and board of EPL, yet is more than willing to throw one of their most competent and professional staff members under the bus. Is it because she does not have the power to defend herself publicly and cannot contradict this story that makes her the scapegoat?
You neglected to ask us, but I will provide you with our experience of this regrettable event.
On August 1st I received a call from Lesley Williams, Director of Adult Services at EPL and our liaison for the library in preparing our programs. I was standing in for another member who had initiated the plans to have Mr. Abunimah come to Evanston. That weekend this member was away on family business and left my name as a referral. We have worked with Ms. Williams before and she has never been anything less than extremely professional and competent. She does not go around misquoting people and writing incendiary emails that do nothing more than cause an angry response.
Since your version of how the communication went so wrong implicates Ms. Williams directly I’d like to know what advantage she was seeking from doing something so unprofessional and stupid. Or maybe we are to believe that she briefly lost her senses and just made up a story about what she’d been told to do. If she didn’t hear correctly she would have had to have lost some judgment if she didn't attempt to clarify with her Director what she was supposed to do and what decision had been made. Or maybe you are saying that she maliciously chose to cause this type of drama and mislead all of us because… it was Friday and she was bored? Sorry that’s the best I can come up with. You’ll have to let me know what her intent was.
What we all know is that there had been a prior postponement because the program had originally been scheduled around the time of a Jewish holiday: per Ali Abunimah’s post, Ms. Williams informed him that August the 4th was the “eve of the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.” Mr. Abunimah was given two reasons why speaking on that day would be a bad idea: The person scheduled to introduce him, Rabbi Brant Rosen, would be occupied with the holiday and others may feel offended because of the tragic nature of the event being remembered*.
The implication here is that Mr. Abunimah speaking on the 4th would have offended some people of Jewish faith, though I fail to see that telling an uninformed public how Palestinians are dealing with living under impossible circumstances should offend anyone commemorating a “disastrous” event held sacred in their tradition. That should be a cause for acknowledging the similar circumstances of oppressed peoples, even though one group’s oppression lay far in the past. This first postponement is troubling. Did Mr. Jones ask Ms. Lyons or the board how speaking about one nation’s disaster disturbs the peace of another group of people with their own history of disaster? Anyone familiar with Mr. Abunimah’s work knows that he makes distinction between the government of Israel and those who practice Judaism. If some are offended, it appears that they are not able to make that distinction.
But back to August 1 at 4: 35 pm. Despite the rescheduling of the program to August 11, Ms. Williams was now informing me that the director was planning to cancel this program. Period. There was no mention of any rescheduling or any larger series that he was to participate in. Ms. Williams hoped the program could continue as a private event that we alone would sponsor. Ms. Williams later told Mr. Abunimah that she was directed to schedule a pro-Israel speaker, but hadn’t settled that matter as of the 1st. Therefore, Ms. Lyons is reported to have said that the event could not go on until a pro-Israel speaker was also booked, in the name of “balance”. Again we had heard nothing about a discussion of a series and no reasonable explanation as to why Mr. Abunimah could not speak unless the Library could produce an opposing speaker.
Additionally there was no doubt that before her phone call to me the Library wanted to distance itself from the event, from Neighbors for Peace and the position of the
speaker. I have the original emails on file that support my argument.
Prior to her call I had spent the week communicating via email with Library representatives and other supporters of the event because I was advertising the event on the Facebook page of Neighbors for Peace. There were concerns that, because of our solid support for Mr. Abunimah’s position on the Gaza crisis, people may make the mistaken assumption that the Library shared this viewpoint.
Some background: Neighbors for Peace does not pretend to take a detached “objective” stand surrounding the occupation of Palestine, and our Facebook page is full of articles and posts relating to the BDS movement, and other actions that protest Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Mr. Abunimah’s site, the Electronic Intifada, was also heavily featured on our page. Although the library’s representative never explicitly stated that our stance was problematic, they did state that they were not there to advocate for any side and that they could not be linked to posts or pages with that did this. Nor could the library post flyers or ads with certain political viewpoints or use other advocacy groups in our announcements at the Library except for our group, since we were co-sponsoring in an official capacity.
Additionally, since the Library had already created a Facebook event page for the talk, I was asked to take down our event page to reduce confusion as to who was actually hosting the event.
In the end I could not see how I could take down our event page without confusing those who were invited. It is possible that the deletion would have left the sense that the event had been cancelled, and only a few so far had actually signed up as attending. We had invited over 500 people. I informed Ms. Williams and other co-sponsors of the event that nothing could be done without risking a lot of confusion and unnecessary cancellations. I volunteered to remove all links to the library and reminded them that anyone with opposing viewpoints were free to post their opinions, as long as they were respectful.
As of July 31st, there was every indication that while there were concerns about our publicizing activity, EPL was still hosting this event, while taking no position on the subject matter.
By August 1, we already knew Mr. Abunimah’s talk could cause a great deal of discomfort for some. Past events related to this subject at the Library had also raised safety concerns, but this occasion was during a particularly tension-raising time: Israel’s vicious assault on the Gaza strip. There were reports even in the national press about Israel officials censoring news organizations - even ones as influential as the New York Times. National news organizations were all under the surveillance of professional and vigilant Israeli supporters and publicly challenged and attacked both on news shows and especially online if they appeared to show Israel in a bad light or gave “too much attention” to the massacre of Palestinian civilians, especially children. If you pay attention to the news you are aware of the strong support for the Israeli government by our government and the many Pro-Israel organizations who stand ready to condemn anyone who does not take their side in the debate over Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There is no logical way anyone could believe that the cancellation was due to anything but the protests from pro-Israel citizens who exercise influence in Evanston and didn’t want a Palestinian voice to be heard – especially in a time when Israel was attacking Gaza with indiscriminate missile strikes that resulted in devastating losses of life and property, losses that were being photographed and published in all their grisly horror all over social media. This was one space that the Israeli government and its lobby groups could not censor.
So how could anyone in such a climate as hostile to Palestinian views as is in the U.S.A. assume anything other than censorship after being told the program had been cancelled? Why would a response protesting this decision and no way to get in contact with the director over the weekend constitute an undeserved attack? What other conclusion could anyone draw when they are told that a supporter of Israel would have to be called upon to challenge Mr. Abunimah’s stance, otherwise he would not be allowed to speak?
These are the circumstances that lay before us: the abrupt decision Karen Danczak Lyons made on a Friday afternoon with no chance for anyone from Neighbors for Peace to speak with her before Monday, Mr. Abunimah’s uncompromising stance regarding Israel’s occupation and the latest of many assaults on Gaza, along with our own support of his stance. The publicizing of our support of this event was being actively discussed, even while the plans were in place to hold the event on August 11. The Evanston Media Center was scheduled to film the talk, copies of “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” had been ordered, the advertisements had gone out - even in the notices from the mayor’s office.
Israel’s lobbies, supporters and spokespeople were delivering one message to U.S. citizens – that they were the victims in this assault. The official Israel-sponsored narrative was that they were defending their country and Hamas was exclusively to blame for the current fatalities in Gaza that had by this time amassed in number to over 1000, mostly civilians. Yet people who turned to alternative independent media options were getting a much different story. Is it any wonder that supporters of Israel’s agenda here on the North Shore and Chicago would not want a well-known and highly respected author and journalist to speak out for Palestine during this critical time, when management of public opinion was paramount?
In the end, Mr. Jones, your story makes little sense, just as the Library’s official explanation makes no sense, except to those not paying attention.
* Ali Abunimah’s blog entry can be found at this website:
Posted: Monday, September 1, 2014
To the Roundtable, Mr. Shawn Jones, Ms. Karen Danczak Lyons and Mr. Michael Tannen:
Mr. Shawn Jones’ “News Analysis” in the August 28, 2014 issue is one of the most shameless pieces of boosterism I have seen in print. This is not so much journalism or analysis as it is a pandering piece of PR on behalf of Karen Danczak Lyons.
This has now been combined with the additional barrage of spin from Ms. Lyons and Mr. Tannen August 30, all of which seek to take back the ground that was deservedly lost by Ms. Lyons’ shameful handling of the Ali Abunimah lecture cancellation, and her current attack on her staff and Neighbors for Peace.
I am deeply offended.
I support my library very much, to the point of sending an email to Ms. Lyons on April 25 praising not only the adult program Muslim Journeys but also 11 Months of African American History, specifically the series of August Wilson play discussions. At that time, she not only acknowledged my praise but praised her staff. This was echoed by a board member.
Ms. Lyons’ current version of events as so voluminously laid out in the Roundtable now has a certain air of “corporate speak” in its language and its message: “mistakes were made” and now she’s in charge to make sure her staff doesn’t get out of line. The problem is not so much EPL’s use of social media but with Ms. Lyons’ and Mr. Tannen’s relationship with transparency.
While it is true that EPL has done many good things in the past, and let’s hope in the future, it is a specious argument Ms. Lyons and Mr. Tannen to hide behind these when spinning the Mr. Abunimah fiasco.
I support my library and love it as a community resource, forum, and institution of knowledge. However, I am ashamed of how Ms. Lyons has handled the program cancellation from the beginning and current torrent of obfuscation. I cannot respect a leader who publicly attacks her own staff while refusing to take responsibility for a decision to cancel Mr. Abunimah’s talk and explain who influenced her to do this.
Please give us residents of Evanston – your constituents and your employer – more credit for being able to make informed judgments.
Stop now with the revisionism and tell us the truth. Until then, shame on you Ms. Lyons. Shame on you Mr. Tannen. Shame on you Mr. Jones.
Posted: Friday, August 29, 2014
The way it looks to me is that a manager told an employee to do something that was wrong. When the wrong was exposed, the manager denied responsibility and blamed it on the employee. Typical.
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