Rabbis and Bookstore Owner Break Bread After Split Over Palestine Book

By Lisa Kava

A rift between a local synagogue and a bookshop over a book on Palestine appears to be over.

The rabbis at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue (SWFS) and the co-owners of Book Culture came to a mutually agreeable resolution after meeting earlier this week, both sides said.

Following the meeting, Book Culture’s co-owners issued a statement, clarifying their views on the book “P is for Palestine” by Dr. Golbarg Bashi, that will enable SWFS to move forward with hosting Book Culture at the synagogue’s preschool holiday book fair scheduled to begin on December 7. The three rabbis at SWFS (Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, Rabbi Diana Fersko and Rabbi Samantha Natov) and the three co-owners of Book Culture (Chris Doeblin, Annie Hedrick and Rick MacArthur) all participated in the meeting. Book Culture’s  statement below was posted on SWFS’s website along with a letter to synagogue members.

Book Culture’s statement says:

  1. We regret that we did not fully appreciate the political or communal ramifications of the children’s book P is for Palestine by Dr. Golbarg Bashi, nor did we anticipate the pain and distress it has caused in our community. We now understand these much better.
  2. We oppose terrorism or other forms of violence perpetrated against Israeli civilians during the intifada or thereafter. Any impression from the book to the contrary is not our view.
  3. We support Israel’s right to exist.
  4. We do not endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).

In a follow up interview with West Side Rag, Chris Doeblin, one of Book Culture’s co-owners, said  “We issued a statement that we already believed in but had not made clear. We believe in Israel’s right to exist as a nation and we are opposed to terrorism and violence of any kind. We do not support divestment from Israel, which is something the author has been associated with.” (On Dr. Bashi’s Instagram profile, she identifies herself with the BDS movement.)

When we asked Doeblin if his view of the word  ”intifada” has changed since the meeting at SWFS  he replied  “Definitely. I see that it was hurtful. To use hurtful words is not the way to a peaceful future. The Rabbi made it very clear that to him personally the intifada was nothing but an extremely horrible murderous event with Palestinians directing violence towards the most innocent Jewish people and Israelis  they could find including women, children and those in hospitals.  He added “ As a bookseller we try not to be offensive. But there is no way we can be ahead of every single thought and idea in every book that comes into our store. If I was careful and cautious enough that I never carried a book contentious in any way I think I would be doing a disservice to publishers and authors. Yet we want to be respectful. We are neighbors. If thousands of people in the community are hurt I think we are obligated as a neighbor and a community member to listen and to make a change.”

Doeblin said that he has not spoken with the author since his meeting at SWFS. He said “ We are not going to remove the book from our shelves but want to make clear that we do not support terrorism and violence against Israel and we do not support divestment from Israel.”

Rabbi Hirsch was pleased with the outcome of the meeting and told us that he had three goals going into the meeting, all of which were accomplished. His first goal was to resolve the issue to the mutual satisfaction of both SWFS and Book Culture. His second goal was for Book Culture to clarify for the general public their views on Israel and their views on the intifada. “They have now acknowledged that the intifada was terrorism. This was important to us.” said Rabbi Hirsch. Dr. Bashi has said that “In my book the intifada stands for the peaceful and the artistic resistance to occupation.”

The third goal, said Rabbi Hirsch was “for us to have another opportunity to explain to a broad audience what the intifada really was and that nobody should be supporting that kind of terrorism against anyone, let alone innocent Israeli citizens including children and babies. It gave us an additional opportunity to counter the Palestinian effort to undermine Israel’s moral standing.” Rabbi Hirsch explained “it was important to me to counter the authors suggestion that the Palestinian national movement is peaceful and I am glad that Book Cultures’ owners agree. That is substantial progress from our perspective.”

Rabbi Hirsch wrote in his letter that he did not consider the issue to be one of free speech (he did not ask Book Culture to pull the book from the store) or one about Palestinian national culture or rights (he and the synagogue support a two state solution). His letter states “The issue is, are we obligated in the name of free expression of ideas, no matter how absurd or offensive such ideas are…to host an entity that showcases an author who glorifies violence against innocent Israelis?”

Looking ahead, Doeblin is currently working in partnership with Tehilah Eisenstadt, the Director of Education and Family Engagement at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ) on West 86th to organize a “restorative process” event to be held at Book Culture’s 112th Street store.  Eisenstadt, who conducts weekly readings of various children’s books at Book Culture told West Side Rag that she is organizing this event outside of her capacity as a representative for SAJ but as an individual who wants to offer the opportunity for dialogue around difficult issues. “Chris and I are looking to host a restorative process, a conversation where people can listen and understand what motivated the different and passionate reactions around the book “P is for Palestine” and the book reading,” Eisenstadt said. “This is an opportunity to restore community conversation instead of shutting it down.”

Eisenstadt is working on finding a highly skilled restorative practitioner to act as a moderator for the event. She is hoping for the event to take place on December 11th (it may be delayed until January if she cannot find the right facilitator) The event will be open to the public. Eisenstadt welcomes anyone who is interested in learning more to contact her through direct message on Facebook.

NEWS | 51 comments | permalink
    1. UWSHebrew says:

      The owners of the bookstore are obviously scared that they will lose the business of many Jews, so they “said what they had to”. The Rabbis capitulated, as the book has not been removed from the shelves. A pox on both their houses.

      • Adam says:

        The Rabbis didn’t capitulate. They never asked for the book to be removed from the shelf.

      • JerryV says:

        Forcing the Bookstore to remove books from its shelves was never requested. It would be a form of book burning. In view of what the nazis did to Jewish books throughout Europe, do you really support and advocate book burning?

        • UWSHebrew says:

          The owners of the bookstore are talking out of both sides of their mouth. They issue the placating statements of now realizing what the true definition and meaning of “intifada” is, yet they state “We are not going to remove the book from our shelves”. This shows insincerity, but that is expected as THE OWNERS OF THE STORE PARTIALLY FINANCED THE PUBLISHING OF THE BOOK. I am not for book burning, I am just pointing out this is all a sham, and this store will not get one cent of my business, ever.

          • RK says:

            One of the owners is personal friends with the author and donated $650 to the crowdfunding campaign (of $15,000) to publish the book. You can call that funding the publication of the book, I call it helping out a friend. Dr Bashi is an intellectual with valid political views. I don’t agree with those views either, but I need to respect her right to hold them. In the same way I have to respect the right of Trump supporters to hold their vile opinions and not call for their censure.. which is getting tougher by the day.

    2. Ellen Massey says:

      Good it was resolved. Words do have meaning.

    3. Stephanie says:

      Could the synagog have purchased all the books and asked the book store to refrain from ordering more.

    4. Ellen Ross says:

      The bookstore owners don’t realize the daily extreme violence the israeli troops and police aim at Palestinians.

    5. Madelon says:

      It is outrageous that opposing terrorism and opposing the BDS movement are equated as equal and justified responses. What is violent about the BDS movement? How can awareness of opposing views be presented peacefully if all avenues of dissent are stifled? I am sorry that The Book Culture caved in under the pressure from the rabbis and the West Side Community to produced such an apologetic statement.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        BDS is economic terrorism. Your whitewashing of what BDS is does not fool anyone.

        • JL says:

          That’s ridiculous. Was calling for a boycott of this bookstore “economic terrorism”?

          • UWS_lifer says:

            Ouch! Check and mate!!!:)

            Nice try though. I recommend thinking things through a little more next time.

            Can everyone stop with the boycotts and censorship, etc. What’s with all the drama lately? Here’s a crazy idea…don’t buy the book if you don’t want to.

        • David says:

          Now that’s some nonsense! So for years the US is/was performing “economic terrorism” in one form or another against Iran, North Korea, Russia, etc.? How about Israel’s occupation and de facto annexation of West Bank territory and East Jerusalem. Clearly robbing territory is worse than saying “I don’t want to do business with you”, so let’s agree to call it “territorial terrorism”, ok?

          None of the parties involved in this conflict have any right to claim the moral high road.

          Does the word “Intifada” belong in a children’s alphabet book? Nope. But pushing for a denouncement of BDS has nothing to do with the book and was likewise uncalled for.

        • Inaya says:

          You’re such an islamophobe, it’s not even funny. Literally, you’re always raging about Muslims.

    6. Marcy says:

      The revelation that the author is a supporter of BDS puts a lie to the assertion that she is merely a proponent of teaching children about Palestinian culture and that she innocently uses the word intifada to express support for for peace-loving Palestinians. If one delves deeply, one finds that she is specifically a supporter of violent Palestinian political “action.”

      • Cdr Joseph Corcoran USN Retired says:

        BDS is a non-violent movement . Just like the one that convinced apartheid South Africa to reform .

        Anyone who asserts that BDS is a violent program is a liar .

        • Ben David says:

          Just Goolge “BDS + videos,” you will see how violent and anti-Semitic the BDS movement truly is!

        • JerryV says:

          Commander Corcoran, I agree that BDS is a non-violent movement. The issue, however, is its selectivity. There are horrible, murderous acts perpetrated throughout the world every day. Examples that come to mind are the genocide in Myanmar and the gassing and bombing of civilian populations in Syria. There are scores of other examples throughout the world. So, kindly explain why the BDS movement focuses only on Jews and gives these other places a free pass?

          • Cdr Joseph Corcoran USN Retired says:

            I will try to explain . BDS focuses on APARTHEID ISRAEL because it is an APARTHEID government , just like South Africa used to be . Beyond that . Apartheid Israel would not exist without the support of the USA government and my tax dollars .
            It’s not about Jews . It’s about government behavior . The Jews in Israel today are the oppressors. And it has nothing to do with Hitler . 25 million Russians died from Hitler’s war . But that’s not the issue . The issue is about justice in Palestine .

            • UWSHebrew says:

              yeah. real oppressors. what bigoted nonsense. You know who else gets your American tax dollars in huge amounts? Egypt. BDS is a joke, it has very little impact aside from shutting down jobs for Palestinians for the company SodaStream.

      • Jeanette says:

        Innocently???? I think not!

    7. AgainstApartheid says:

      This whole discussion erases the lives and experiences of the Palestinian people. As a Jewish upper west sider for life, I am disgusted by the actions of SWFS. The owners of Book Culture should never have had to issue such a statement.

    8. Walk On By says:

      Insufficient response to an irresponsible action.

      I will no longer consider that bookseller for any purchases. As far as I am concerned, the store is already out of business, and just another vacant storefront on Columbus. And the sooner, the better.

    9. Cdr. Joseph Corcoran USN Retired says:

      The Jewish Voice for Peace put out a short video Palestine 101 that explains the inhuman behavior of the radical Zionist oppressors of the indigenous population of Palestine . Another recent video ( both available on the web ) The Story of Palestine-it’s not complicated should also enlighten .
      BDS is a peaceful means to try to get APARTHEID ISRAEL to reform .

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Jewish Voice for Peace, along with your Commander Corcoran, are enemies of Israel “radical Zionist oppressors”. Your obsession with Israel belies your true beliefs, as 500,000 die in Syria and you don’t bat an eye. The reason the “apartheid wall” was built in Israel was to stop the onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombers from killing people at bus stops, pizza shops, and dance clubs. AND IT WORKED. So the wall stays, as long as it PREVENTS INNOCENT DEATH from a people who teach their children in schools how to stab Israelis.

      • Ben David says:

        More falsehoods. JVP is a dangerous hateful organization that promotes hatred, racism, and uses violence to silence the voices of anyone who tries to challenge their views. They are no friends of the Jews.

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          Jewish Voice for Peace uses violence?

          what straight out rubbish.

          I hope someone from JVP sees this and answers it… better than i can. i just know this is malarkey.

      • JerryV says:

        The current Muslim, Arab population of Palestine is not its indigenous population. This has been the homeland of the Jews for close to 4,000 years, and Israel has repeatedly offered to share Palestine with the Arabs. Indeed, Israel proper occupies only about 12% of Palestine (as measured by the British Mandate over Palestine). Eighty % of Palestine was given by Britain to form the Kingdom of Jordan.

    10. Rosalind Petchesky says:

      I am appalled by the ill=informed, knee-jerk response of a bookstore in my neighborhood, one I have patronized frequently and been grateful to have here. Obviously Book Culture’s owners are simply responding to one group of rabbis without taking into account (a) the sentiments of MANY of their clients who are both Jews and non-Jews and who strongly support justice for Palestine; and (b) the well documented history of Israeli colonialism and occupation and the reality of the intifadas as part of a popular struggle against this oppression. As one who has witnessed this first-hand and who supports BDS as a peaceful tactic, I am sickened by Book Culture’s ill-considered statement but happy that Prof. Bashi’s book remains on the shelf. I will not boycott Book Culture but will immediately buy the book for my grandchildren. .

      • Ben David says:

        Rosalind Petchesky,
        The Intifadas that you praise as “part of a popular struggle” ruthlessly killed civilians–children, too! So, you are raising your grandchildren to hate Jews and support their murder.

      • JerryV says:

        Rosalind, You are a bit confused and flooding this site with alt-facts. No one called for a boycott of the bookstore as you claim. The Synagogue merely said that it did not wish this book to be displayed and sold at the Synagogue. Does it not have the right to control what material is being offered for sale for use by pre-schoolers at its own facility? Do you suggest that that the Synagogue be forced to offer for sale books that it finds offensive? Please read and don’t make things up.

    11. Scott says:

      Sad that Dr. Bashi had to grovel like this. Sounds like an apology you might find in Stalinist Russia. So what if she does support BDS? Much of the world does. It worked in Apartheid South Africa, maybe it will bring the Israelis to the bargaining table. And so much for the UWS’s vaunted “liberals” sticking up for free speech.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Who is “much of the world” that supports BDS? Europeans who participated in the killing of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Roma during WWII? Do you mean the Arab world which expelled Jews from it countries after 1948 (and killed a few hundred as well). You’re in great company Scott. Why don’t you just admit you want to see Israel destroyed? I have more respect for Neo-Nazis who spell it out than you, who hide behind “BDS”.

        • Scott says:

          It must be exhausting to be you UWSHebrew. Running around the Internets like a headless chicken constantly putting out fires. It really bugs you that other people view the Israel-Palestine issue differently than you, doesn’t it?

          Since you suggested I move in a previous thread, let me return the favor. Maybe you should make aliyah to Hebron, so you can walk around with an automatic weapon slung over your shoulder. You can bully people who had nothing to do with the Holocaust and feel good about yourself. It’s certainly better than being a fake tough guy 5000 miles away from the action.

          • UWSHebrew says:

            Ah Scott, there ya go. “bully people”. Nonsense. Oh, and thank you Trump for finally having the guts to recognize Jerusalem as the capital. This is truly the end of the Obama nightmare towards Israel.

    12. Geralyn says:

      Did the booksellers meet with Palestinians to get their side? This smells of censorship. If they are hosting conversations I hope they include both sides.

    13. Mary Panzer says:

      Who will represent Dr. Bashi and her book at these events? How can there be reconciliation or healing without representation from both sides in this dispute? Who will represent support for “P is for Palestine?”

    14. Judy Walker says:

      How pathetic to equate a children’s book with terrorism. We can see who the terrorists in this scenario are. BDS continues to gain steam in spite of this thuggish intimidation and cowardice.
      As they say in Palestine: “they tried to bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds.”

      • UWSHebrew says:

        don’t forget what the Palestinians scream at events “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free!”. NOT. BDS is a “destroy Israel” organization and IS NOT gaining steam, even the most anti-semitic country in Europe, France, has made BDS illegal.

    15. NYCSandi says:

      P cannot be for Palestine. There is no “P” sound in Arabic. It would be “F” for Falestine.

    16. Inaya says:

      Pathetic. Book Culture should not have folded and taken sides like this.

      I will not be shopping there ever again as a result.

    17. A peaceful interlocutor. says:

      I’m an Israeli born American. I support this wonderful store. The book has a right to be displayed. The rabbis showed sagacity in their goals. BDS is a violent anti Semitic org. Most of the West Bank is administered by the Palestinian police. Israel inherited this land after being attacked and Jordan ignoring a warning to stay out of the 67 conflict. Israel has offered to return this land in exchange for peace multiple times only to be rebuffed. Historically it was the Jews who were forced out of the sector. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire the Brits established the borders, nation states and sovereignty of these areas. Israel does not practice apartheid and has 2 million Arabs within its borders. The settlement make up a tiny buffer zone of the West Bank. Peaceful intentions have been subverted by a corrupt Arab intransigence leaving the contested areas unresolved. Lack of trust, hatred and violence keeps the status quo. Israel has returned the Sinai, southern Lebanon, Gaza only to be replaced with terror organizations bent on its destruction. There’re has been very little trust building, peaceful scaffolds or any signal for Israel to take another chance for peace despite the historical and geopolitical reasons for not doing so.

    18. mooncalf says:

      This is absurd. Shame on Book Culture for giving in to these allegations. BDS does not equal terrorism.

    19. Ron says:

      Pathetic pandering to a nationalist agenda that denies basic human rights to those whose lands they steal.

    20. Marla says:

      Truly disappointed that a bookstore would make decisions based on the feelings of/threats by some Jews over the meaning of Intifada. First, lest we forget Debbie Almontaser lost leadership of the school she created, The Kahlil Gibran Academy, due to smears against her over that word— ‘Intifada’. While rightwing Zionists led that campaign, Rabbis like Rolando Matalon and Ellen Lippman worked to support her case with the EEOC that ultimately did find the NYC Dept. of Ed. guilty of discrimination. It is worth repeating Rabbi Matalon’s comments as he invokes the Jewish tradition of debate which seems lost on Rabbi Hirsch: “There are regrettable antecedents to the litmus test to which the press and the DOE subjected Ms. Almontaser, most notably in the regularity with which African-Americans are asked to denounce outspoken members of their community. The idea that there is only one acceptable view on issues of public concern is … a perversion of the Jewish tradition of vigorous debate and discussion on all questions of importance to our people.”
      Secondly, a dialogue on Rabbi Hirsch’s allegations is possible but with those who understand, e.g., the Intifada of 1987. In the store are many resources that provide a framework or shoot down the claims of Rabbi Hirsch: Edward Said’s humanist view in “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims”in The Question of Palestine where he identifies 2 suffering communities and Benny Morris, in Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 where he describes the conditions of Palestinian life in the territories as permeated by an ”all-pervading element of humiliation” resulting from an occupation he identifies as “founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation.” This Intifada he understood was Palestinians throwing off a 20 year military occupation.

      Even avid Zionists like Morris can name the degradation, abuse and repression that Israel wrought against Palestinians. Even Israeli leaders knew that stealing Palestinian land would lead to uprisings. Former Israeli minister of Economics and Finance, Gad Ya’acobi, stated that “a creeping process of de facto annexation” produced rebellion in Palestinian society. So whose feelings count? Whose welfare was threatened? In fact, the 1987 Intifada was basically an extensive non-violent resistance, but the character of the power against those rising up must be central to the story. Who will speak to that? If there is to be a reconciliation, it should be with those who include the truth about Israel’s crimes who may even, like Morris, embrace them. But the disingenuous claim by the Rabbis that the children’s book mention of Intifada is a celebration of violence against Jews cannot stand. There are many of us Jews who won’t let it.

      • JerryV says:

        Marla, Your ranting has absolutely nothing to do with this issue. No one is advocating that people can visit this store. It is ALL about whether this book may be presented within a synagogue book show designed for pre-schoolers. You write, It is worth repeating Rabbi Matalon’s comments as he invokes the Jewish tradition of debate which seems lost on Rabbi Hirsch:” Are you really suggesting that 2, 3 and 4 year olds debate this topic.