Brandeis Censors an Exhibit of Palestinian Art:

Boston Globe:

"University officials said the paintings depicted only one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lior Halperin, the student who organized the exhibit, said the university censored an alternative view.... Brandeis officials said they wanted to make sure the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is presented in a balanced manner.

''It was completely from one side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we can only go based on the complaints we received," said Dennis Nealon, a Brandeis spokesman. ''People were saying: (a) what is this; (b) what is it trying to say; and (c) should there be some sort of balancing perspective here?" Nealon said that the university would consider displaying the artwork again in the fall, alongside pieces showing the Israeli point of view."

The article suggests that some students were upset, because the exhibit came without any explanatory information, and thus appeared to be officially endorsed by university staff. A simple disclaimer, explaining the origins of the art (a project organized by a Brandeis student) would have solved that problem.

Brandeis is a private university and, thus, unlike, e.g., Penn State, is not bound by the First Amendment, so there is no constitutional violation here, but the administration's reactions don't reflect well on Brandeis.

Indeed, putting this post together with one from yesterday, we have the Brandeis Administration adopting the following posture: (1) We will officially honor Tony Kushner, a virulently anti-Israel playwright who says that "[t]he biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community." and (2) We will censor (Israeli!) students who exhibit "one-sided" art that is deemed anti-Israel. In other words, we will do the wrong thing in each case, in a particularly ham-headedhanded [typo; insert kosher joke here] and illogical way. Not for the first time, my alma mater is embarassing me.

Thanks to reader David Orlinoff for the tip.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Brandeis and the Art Exhibit:
  2. Brandeis Censors an Exhibit of Palestinian Art:
  3. Tony Kushner to be Honored at Brandeis:
Justin (mail):
There is so much irony here, and in so many different ways. Revel in the irony!
5.3.2006 12:41pm
Hattio (mail):
I always thought this was ham-handed, not ham-headed...
5.3.2006 1:03pm
byrd (mail):
Since when is art supposed to present balanced perspectives?
5.3.2006 1:33pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Art, I've deleted your post, and if you continue to post insults that don't contribute to the topic at hand, I'm going to ban you permanently.
5.3.2006 2:07pm
Yeah, bad move from Brandeis.

Here is my issue: I've started to dislike blogs that provide more commentary than fact. Ever little thing is such a big deal - Brandeis "embarasses" the author, a custody decision made by some trial court is "egregious", some government decision to fund X program is backed by a rationale that is "insincere". Perhaps that is the problem with the written word - I expect some reflection when I read, but blogs are too often emotional and done spur of the moment with just minimal research.

I suppose I mistakenly expect more from smart people.

What happened at Brandeis, it appears, is that a bunch of smart people tried to accomdate too many interests at once. Clearly there is no animus towards the Israeli POV meant by the degree to Kushner. Clearly the school does not seek to suppress the Palestinian POV by closing down this art exhibit (though, I never saw an anti-Zionish Jewish position while there, fwiw). Both statements are true if one looks at the broader picture of the school. (E.g., read the Hoot and you'll see a defense of Normal Finkelstein; wait a couple of weeks and Dershowitz will give a talk.) But, this was a bad idea.

I don't know. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be outraged by anymore. There seems little in incremental outrage in the blogosphere.
5.3.2006 2:20pm
raj (mail):
The article suggests that some students were upset, because the exhibit came without any explanatory information...

This is somewhat disingenuous on the part of Brandeis. I doubt very seriously that, for example, Picasso's Guernica came with "explanatory information."

It is probable that the students who complained were uncomfortable with being shown the perspective of some children from the other side.
5.3.2006 2:20pm
Art O'Persuasion (mail):
My comment was a bit insulting, and I apologize. But you might engage in a little introspection as well. The point of my comment was to criticize your posts for so frequently being insulting to people and institutions you disagree with (by calling them "idiotic," "ham-handed," "hypocritical," etc.). Indeed, I frequently agree with you on substance but find the tone of your posts unnecessarily abrasive and alienating. Having made my point clearly and without sarcasm, I will refrain from further comment.
5.3.2006 2:38pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
J. said: "What happened at Brandeis, it appears, is that a bunch of smart people tried to accomdate too many interests at once. Clearly there is no animus towards the Israeli POV meant by the degree to Kushner. Clearly the school does not seek to suppress the Palestinian POV by closing down this art exhibit..."

I'm not sure if I'd give them the same credit for for being "smart" as you do, and I certainly can't see how this isn't "suppress[ing] the Palestinian POV." Just because their motivation may not be to prevent the Palestinian perspective from reaching the light of day, their actions here are pretty clearly suppressing that point of view.

When you preach that hurting other people's feelings or brushing against their sensitivities is the boundary of on-campus speech, you'll end up suppressing quite a lot of points of view.
5.3.2006 2:54pm
Meryl Yourish (www):
Or maybe it's just the universe's way of seeking balance.
5.3.2006 3:21pm
Bill_C (mail):
Since when is art supposed to be balanced in the first place? It's not journalism afterall. Art makes a point of being propaganda lite. Art is a look into the artists mind, not the real environment in which he or she is abstracting.

Would a Goya exhibit have to include art from the other side of the Peninsular War in the name of "balance" if shown at Brandeis? Doubt it. Yet this anti-Israel exhibit needs "balance."

Did the Penn State sculpture of "Falling Soldier" require art from the other side of the Spanish Civil War for "balance?" Never Happened -- the "Fightin Red Onion Head" (as we knew it) perpetually died alone. Yet the "pro-Israeli" exhibit was banned for a number of quesiontable reasons.

Both this and the Penn State exhibit show that it's not balance that they trying to achieve, but rather to avoid the wrong kind of controversy. And naturally, both schools waltzed right into the wrong kind of controversy.
5.3.2006 3:24pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
More on Brandeis being "smart" in this. Hmmm. Every single time that there is an act remotely capable of being construed as censorship by the academia, (and nothing about this is "remote"), the very prominent and capable usual suspects come out of the woodwork and create atrocious publicity for the wrong-doers. Then FIRE sues someone, and they basically always win. You would think, with all of that in mind, the GC at Brandeis, along with the PR office, would circulate something to the professors to provide a guide of how to not get the school in a heap of controversy. But no. They keep doing things like this, undeterred.

I realize that not censoring sometimes is fraught with inviting disapproval from particular student groups, but a contained, local controversy, where the school has a morally defensible position, is a much lesser evil than a national one, where the school is cast as a hypocrite, and if public, invites litigation.
5.3.2006 3:46pm
Do I detect a hint of Schaudenfraude animating this sudden concern with suppression of an pro-Palestinian view point?
5.3.2006 6:03pm
FWIW, MIT may take the exhibit, the local NPR station has reported.

HLS: I meant that Brandeis as a rule allows pently of speach showing the Pal POV. Or, at least I thought so. I don't know that it is a popular view there, but it was a topic in a number of Pol/Phil classes I took as well as a topic of a few campus events. I did not mean that Brandeis's supression of this did not constitute the supression of a POV.
5.3.2006 6:10pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
J.: Fair enough. In my experience a sizeable part of the Brandeis population is in the common cognitive dissonance trap of college-age leftists (moral relativism, etc.) who feel support for Israel on ethnic/religious/family grounds. This recent hodgepodge of different treatments of the issue doesn't surprise me too much.
5.3.2006 7:02pm
Hattio: Given Brandeis's Jewish roots, wouldn't they more likely be Shem-handed?
5.3.2006 7:06pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
Why does anyone place any importance on the speech being "art?"

• "Art" deserves absolutely no more right to free speech than any person's incoherent ramblings.
• It doesn't serve free speech well as it intrtoduces the endless "But is it 'art'?" question.
• It introduces (impliedly) an issue of greater staus for "artists."

No, keep the whole issue of art out of it.
5.4.2006 10:33am
David Sucher (mail) (www):
btw, why is Goya only "art" and not also "journalism" in the sense that his painting are done, so i understand, specifically to inform, educate etc etc.

the whole "art" vs "journalism" business is a red herring.
5.5.2006 9:55pm