Missouri History Museum stops panel including Palestinian presence

and | Senior Editors

An event planned for Thursday night has been cancelled at the Missouri History Museum after organizers refused to meet the museum’s demand that Palestinian activists be removed from a panel of speakers exploring the similarities between social movements in Ferguson, Ayotzinapa and Palestine.

The Missouri History Museum has cancelled a solidarity event claiming that its planned format was changed from the initial pitch. The museum advertised the panel with its full title and information, each including references to Palestine, on its website before the event page was taken down on Wednesday afternoon.Courtesy of Sourik Beltran

The Missouri History Museum has cancelled a solidarity event claiming that its planned format was changed from the initial pitch. The museum advertised the panel with its full title and information, each including references to Palestine, on its website before the event page was taken down on Wednesday afternoon.

Co-hosted by Washington University student group AltaVoz, Latinos en Axion STL, the Organization for Black Struggle and the Saint Louis Palestinian Solidarity Committee, the “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action” event was intended to draw from across St. Louis. Planned panelists included leaders of the various hosting organizations, as well as University professor Bret Gustafson and community leader and alumna Brittany Packnett, a member of the Ferguson Commission.

In a public statement released Wednesday afternoon, the museum claimed that the event was cancelled because it had “significantly change[d]” from its initial format as presented in an email from organizing AltaVoz member senior Sourik Beltran.

Beltran said that he received a call from a representative of the museum on Tuesday explaining that the event would be canceled unless the Palestinian activist panelists were removed.

“They gave us an ultimatum: either that we don’t include Palestine or that we don’t do the event. So at that point we said that we weren’t going to do the event,” fellow event organizer sophomore Bradley Schlesinger said.

But Beltran said that while Palestine had not been mentioned in his initial communication with the museum, the inclusion of Palestine in the event was made clear in subsequent exchanges and on promotional materials posted to the museum’s website.

“We were really confused—the first question was why? Basically, their answer was ‘we didn’t know Palestine was going to be part of the event,’ referring to a very old email from January when we didn’t know which topics we were going to cover—we just didn’t include Palestine in the email. But every email after that included Palestine,” he said.

An email dated March 4 sent from an organizer at the museum to Beltran read, “I love the flier. See you on the 19th,” with the attached image linking to a flyer with the event’s full name. A page promoting the event on the museum’s website also included the event’s full name and information on the panelists, which contained references to Palestine and the Saint Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, respectively. As of Wednesday afternoon, that page had been taken down, with the URL directing users to a “page not found” notice.

“They posted our flyer online, they posted the title online, they posted the event description online—all of which had Palestine in it—so there’s no way they didn’t know,” Beltran said.

“The funny thing is if you look at their calendar, there’s an event that was cancelled but not removed. So our event was just sort of totally erased,” Beltran added.

In an update to its statement posted around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the museum acknowledged, “We were initially open to the changes and posted information about the program on our website. However, after much consideration we decided the complexities of this issue could not be adequately addressed in this format.”

Museum spokesperson Leigh Walters, the assistant director of communications, stressed that the decision was made by the museum’s staff without any outside pressure from donors or other individuals or groups to do so.

“No one else was involved. It was entirely a collective decision by our leadership team, which is a leadership team of staff,” Walters said.

Walters explained that because of the leadership team’s experience working with such issues, it felt that the planned panel was not the best format.

“We actually function as a national model for programming to discuss difficult issues like this. We are the professionals and the experts on how to best do these things…we would be open to discussions about Palestine and the Middle East separately but not within this format,” Walters said.

Walters disagreed with the notion that the museum was attempting to silence discussion of the topic with its decision, instead emphasizing its support of conversation and difficult issues in the past.

“That’s not what we’re about and what we’ve ever been about, and we are willing to discuss with them another format to discuss this issue…but from our perspective, they have never been open to that, so it kind of goes both ways here,” she said.

But Beltran said that the motivation behind combining the three groups in one event was their similarities.

“The entire idea was a dialogue about social movements, drawing parallels between these different issues, between these different social movements. It was a way to get people informed about these issues,” he said.

Specifically regarding Palestine, he said, “Palestine Solidarity Committee has been organizing in St. Louis for a while to bring light to issues, human rights abuses of Palestinians. With that alone, we wanted to draw parallels between the kind of work these groups are doing.”

Beltran also expressed confusion with the museum’s decision so close to the event.

“Our contact with the history museum was very supportive, like I said, from the beginning. It was a good relationship…they were very much on board with the message—at least, in the beginning,” he said.

Organizers said that they still plan to have attendees meet outside the museum on Thursday night to support the Palestine Solidarity Committee and that they are considering new venues to host the panel.

“All we know is that people feel like they’re being silenced, people feel like the Missouri History Museum is stifling conversation—conversation that needs to be had,” Beltran said.

As the news of the event’s cancellation emerged on Wednesday afternoon, respondents took to social media to voice their frustration. Around 100 messages with the marker #selectivehistory appeared on Twitter, reflecting the hashtag that was added to the group’s flyer for the panel-turned-protest.

Several posts on Twitter and Facebook drew a connection between this event’s cancellation and the change to a speaker event on the University campus last April. Then, the International and Area Studies department altered a planned appearance from Palestinian-American slam poet Remi Kanazi as part of a panel to discuss Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a movement founded in Palestine that intends to combat Israeli presence in contested land with economic sanctions.

Instead, due to departmental concerns that the panel would not be balanced, only Kanazi was allowed to speak only about his poetry, not politics. Moreover, only members of the International Area Studies honorary Sigma Iota Rho were allowed to attend.

“You can’t be fully educated about something unless you know all perspectives. So that’s why especially in academia and then in an event that was going to be educational and kind of look at the similarities between all of those different cases that we’re seeing, it would have been really, really amazing to have a perspective that we don’t often get to hear,” sophomore Shivani Desai said.

“In our Wash. U. community, these are two events that we can say for sure where the Palestinian voice was being silenced to a certain degree, and that makes you really upset,” sophomore Yaala Muller said.

“A lot of people were saying that they struggle with comparing Ferguson to Palestine and I struggle with comparing Ferguson to Palestine, but I think the event was a lot more about coming together and about solidarity…I understand that it’s really scary for a lot of people, but I think having the conversation is really the only way to move forward,” Muller added.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Islamic Jihad is the most common excuse for man’s inhumanity to man in the 21st century. Let them present their case w/o taxpayer funding.

    How about the museum do a panel on how the Hands Up lie was spread and how much damage it has done. That is the free exchange of ideas that would most benefit the community.

    • Arafat

      My Jihad (my struggle) written in NAZI German is (Mein Kampf)

      If you read the Quran then Google (Mein Kampf quotes) you will find the same anti-Jewish hateful lies that Adolph Hitler (from their book) once plagiarized.

  • Harry Abrams

    Why do Pro-Palestine activists try to hijack the agendas of different facilities so often? Not only is the idea of clumping together Ferguson/Mexico/Palestine … more than little tenuous, but as the Museum’s letter (and attachments) show, what these people seem to want to do today is quite different than the proposal that was approved. It’s their museum…. suck it up and move on.

    • Arafat

      Islam is indeed a crime against humanity, and its first victims are Muslims.
      I think that is why Muslims are so quick and ready to assume victimhood. On a
      subconscious level, they feel victimized, but in their search for the cause of
      their discomfort they incorrectly identify colonialism, crusades, Jews, racism,
      and so forth as the cause.

      For a Muslim to face up to the reality of Islam and to admit to oneself that
      Islam is the problem means to lose one’s identity. Hence the cognitive
      dissonance Muslims experience when Islam is called into question. Hence the
      scrambling for excuses and explanations that can convince the Muslims
      themselves that Islam is not the problem. And the explanations tend to be
      colonialism, crusades, Jews, racism, and so forth.

      When cultural Muslims refer to spurious arguments by Islamic apologists as a
      counterargument to brush aside direct quotes from the Qur’an and the hadiths,
      it is not that they are deliberately trying to deceive the non-Muslims. They
      are desperately clinging to the hope that Islam is not the problem. When they
      repeat the talking points of Islamic apologists explaining how Islam is a
      religion of peace, their primary aim is to convince (delude) themselves and
      make the cognitive dissonance go away at least momentarily, which then removes
      the immediate threat to their identity and postpones the inevitable
      confrontation.

  • Mikaere

    Of course there was interference from donors. Why else would this wonderful program be cancelled?
    There was never an explanation. Is it because Zionism, the racist ideology, does not want the Palestinian
    narrative out there? It is already coming out from the shadows, despite those who would block their story.
    So the last victims of the holocaust, the Palestinians (who had nothing to do with the holocaust) might
    someday be recognized as similar to the oppressed in this country..although worse….this story won’t remain silent. There are courageous people speaking out even though the moneyed people who own the press and museums apparently, will not be silenced..They are the best humanity has to offer…bless you and don’t give up

    • debbie8431

      It’s because the two have nothing to do with each other, kind of like what you’re attempting to do with the holocaust.

      • Arafat

        There are two UN refugee agencies in the world: First is the United Nations Relief and Works Administrations (UNRWA) for 5 million Palestinian refugees (which includes the descendants of the original 500,000 Palestinian refugees from the Israeli War of Independence) which employs 30,000 workers. The UNRWA has resettled no Palestinians.

        The second refugee agency is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which assists every other refugee in the world–including 100 million displaced people during the last 50 years–and employs 7,000 people. The UNHCR has resettled tens of millions of refugees.

        Looking at these numbers, one would think that the cause of the Palestinians is somehow morally superior to that of all other war refugees. After all, why have so many more workers been assisting a dramatically smaller group of people? But if the Palestinians are unique it is only because of their
        moral inferiority, as they are the only group of refugees that regularly commit acts of terrorism against innocent civilians.

        Another obvious question: why hasn’t the UNRWA resettled any of the Palestinian refugees? The answer, of course, is that the surrounding Arab states would rather have these refugees remain a thorn in Israel’s side, than help them start a new life. The UNRWA is happy to oblige.

    • Harry Abrams

      Never an explanation? I suppose that means that “Mikaere” didn’t read the above article, which WAS the explanation. I really feel sorry for Palestinians. They really get the dregs of humanity out there trying to push their stuff. Plane hijackings, bomb belted children blowing up pizza parlours and university cafeterias, parents who send their children to throw rocks at motorists…. anything but sitting down with the neighbors to negotiate the end of a conflict in good faith. It’s all fraud, racism, and terror propaganda. Who needs ‘em?

  • Silencing Palestinians is precisely what is happening here. Oh, the arrogance of Ms. Walters! “We are the professionals and the experts on how to best do these things…” As the Director of Palestine’s International Middle East Media Center, I see this sort of erasure of the Palestinian experience on a regular basis – particularly in US academia, museum culture, and in the arts. Mrs. Walters, no one is amused and certainly no one is buying this horrible attempt at damage control. Shame on you for silencing the voices of the oppressed. Shame on you!

    • debbie8431

      No – what’s happening is Palestinians co-opting a completely different struggle based on completely different issues in an effort to meld two things that have nothing to do with each other. The well-funded, well-oiled, Madison Avenue PR firm represented Palestinian Propaganda Machine has already co-opted the term “peace” and the term “justice” and claimed it as their own, despite the unbelievable irony. Peace groups have popped up in states around the country where the organizer just happens to be a paid organizer from a pro-Palestinian NGO. I’m glad the museum saw through this charade.

      • Arafat

        Islam is indeed a crime against humanity, and its first victims are Muslims. I think that is why Muslims are so quick and ready to assume victimhood. On a subconscious level, they feel victimized, but in their search for the cause of their discomfort they incorrectly identify colonialism, crusades, Jews, racism, and so forth as the cause.

    • Ruben

      Something tells me this is a low tier institution. By leveraging your clout to defend your own cause? It’s a “media center.” Shouldn’t you know how the silly the perception of that sentence will be?

      And what in the world. Academia overwhelmingly supports the Palestinian cause. What is it you do exactly?