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Palestine exhibition not anti-Semitic

A self-proclaimed ‘Islamophobe’ has gone to court to have the exhibition ‘Palestine 1948’ altered. Yesterday, the court dismissed his claim, arguing that the exhibition is not anti-Semitic. The claimant may lodge an appeal.

Palestine 1948 tells the story of the creation of Israel largely from a Palestinian perspective. The exhibition features personal stories told by people who were forced to leave their homes and move to refugee camps. In many families, the keys to the original houses are passed on from generation to generation as a symbol for the right to return.

On 15 March, two weeks after the opening of the exhibition, het Parool published an opinion article by M.J. in which he argued that the exhibition presents a biased view of history. It would omit information on Arab anti-Semitism and the Arabs’ failure to seize the opportunity would have been handed to them in 1948.

In a response, director Lejo Schenk of the Tropenmuseum argued that some of the supposedly biased texts were in fact based on reports that Israeli fighters have written on the cities and villages they conquered.

According to M.J.’s lawyer, J.G.M. Hovius, M.J. tried to enter into debate with the Tropenmuseum, but only received two short meaningless letters. Therefore, he decided to go to court, demanding that the Tropenmuseum ‘prominently’ add information so as to present a more balanced view. In its current form, the exhibition would incite hatred against Jews.

On 21 July, the court held a session in one of the chambers of the Tropenmuseum and visited the exhibition, giving both parties an opportunity to comment on items on the display. According to Hovius, this resulted in an ‘extremely fascinating dialogue’.

Yesterday, the court ruled that there is nothing wrong with the exhibition. The Tropenmuseum is entitled to show one interpretation of history, just as M.J. is entitled to defend another interpretation. It is not up to the court to prescribe the contents of an exhibition.

In a first response, Hovius says the ruling does not really seem to do justice to the discussion during the visit of the exhibition. According to Hovius, one of the items discussed was a photo of a Palestinian man in front of a wall with graffiti saying ‘Jews are Nazis’.

At the exhibition, there is in fact a photo showing graffiti saying ‘Paid by USA’ and ‘I did it my way - Sharon’ as well as a Star of David made up of dollar signs. A photo of a refugee camp shows graffiti saying ‘concentration camp’.

M.J.’s opinion article about the exhibition was not his first publication in het Parool. On 22 February, the newspaper published an article in which he warned against the dangers of Islam. “Contrary to Europe’s immoral and irrational anti-Semitism, Islamophobia serves a very healthy social purpose”, he argued.

As long as Muslims fail to embrace freedom in all its forms, “I’ll be excessively proud to be called an Islamophobe”, he added.

Exhibition, Ruling (in Dutch). Image: Sylvia Sneige showing the keys to her parents’ house in Jerusalem. Photo Alan Gignoux / Tropenmuseum

8 August 2008 |