Historians call for public accountability from Missouri History Museum

Sign the Petition: http://tinyurl.com/HistoriansPetitionMHM

Background

150328-ferguson-palestineOn March 19th , the panel discussion “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action” was scheduled to take place at the Missouri History Museum. The panel discussion was intended to illuminate histories of state violence and to be a platform for connecting community activists fighting against oppression. Two days before the event, the museum contacted event organizers and demanded that the subject of Palestine be removed, or that organizers reschedule the event at a different location. This entailed not merely the removal of the mention of Palestine in the name of the event, but the removal of a representative of the local Palestinian community from the panel. As a result of the museum’s demands, all panelists and organizations involved agreed to cancel the event, stage a protest on the steps of the museum, and rescheduled the panel discussion at a different location.

In a public statement on their website, the museum shifted the blame to event organizers stating that “significant” changes had been made to the original proposed event. While the original proposal included only Ayotzinapa and Ferguson, a revision occurring shortly after added the subject of Palestine to the event.  Museum staff agreed to the addition and publicized the event online. Museum staff rationalized their last minute demands to event organizers in email correspondence stating, “The conflict we are running into is the comparison between the events in Ferguson and the actions of the Palestinians. Some people see these events as comparing apples to oranges [emphasis added].” The community activist groups who were a part of the panel see commonalities across their struggles—economic injustice, state violence, and unequal access to resources.

Contrary to the museum’s statements, a Freedom of Information Act Sunshine request revealed that the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) emailed the museum president two days before the panel discussion expressing dismay at the event’s content. Within 90 minutes the museum president responded, thanking the JCRC director for bringing the issue to her attention and stated that the museum was contacting event organizers to deliver an ultimatum. The museum, in an effort to placate its critics, is now proposing to organize a moderated panel on Israel and Palestine. They have contacted the JCRC and Anti-Defamation League to assist in planning; they have not contacted the Palestine Solidarity Committee, which was a part of the original panel.

This petition will be delivered to the Missouri History Museum and released to the press during the Organization of American Historians annual meeting, which will be held in St. Louis from April 16th-19th. Please sign the petition to protest the Missouri History Museum’s actions and distribute to your colleagues. Sign the Petition: http://tinyurl.com/HistoriansPetitionMHM

Resources for more information:

Cancellation of panel:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-hart/palestine-solidarity-cens_b_6909486.html?

Museum Statement: http://mohistory.org/node/56647

Emails between Museum and JCRC: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/03/missouri-palestine-pressure

If you are a historian, please sign on to the statement here: http://tinyurl.com/HistoriansPetitionMHM

We, the undersigned historians, voice our opposition to the Missouri History Museum’s demand that the subject of Palestine be excluded from the panel discussion “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action”.

As academics and educators we are appalled that an institution dedicated to preserving human history would marginalize a people by insisting that they be removed from a previously agreed-upon panel, on specious grounds. The statement released on your website explains your decision as the result of significant changes made to the original proposed panel and that the addition of Palestine “diluted” the panel’s focus. The museum had agreed to the inclusion of Palestine weeks before the event was to take place, had publicized the event, and voiced no concerns over the makeup of the panel until two days before the event.

The museum’s actions violate the basic values of institutions that engage in public education, and contradict the museum’s own mission. Your actions are a practice of censorship. Two of the core values of the museum are civil society and empathy. The bonds of civil society cannot be forged when an institution selectively excludes groups, and empathy cannot emerge when perspectives are silenced. The museum’s integrity is shattered when a closed private network wields control over a public institution.

As a history museum, the expectation placed upon your institution is the elevation of historical perspectives that would otherwise go unheard. Comparative histories, like those of the proposed panel, shed light on historical parallels, which in turn serve to deepen our understanding of global economic, political, and cultural structures. People whose opportunities and choices are tightly constrained by such structures are rarely heard.

The museum’s demand that Palestine be removed from the panel including Ferguson and Ayotzinapa and its subsequent proposal of a panel composed solely of Palestine and Israel is problematic in many ways. Palestinian perspectives should not be restricted to being contextualized by supporters of oppression and occupation.

We demand that the museum institute mechanisms for public accountability and transparent decision-making. As well, we demand that the museum apologize to the organizers of “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action.”

Sincerely,

Concerned Historians

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