May 18, 2011

Picket New Seasons In Portland On Thursday



STOP ART CENSORSHIP AT NEW SEASONS

EVENT:  Demonstration to protest New Season's decision to remove photo exhibition featuring images from Palestine.
DATE:  Thursday, May 19th, 2011
TIME:  5:00 PM
LOCATION:  New Seasons Grocery Store, SE Division & SE 20th, Portland, OR
CONTACT:  Peter Miller   503-358-7475  peteskitoo@gmail.com  

Local Palestinian Solidarity Groups Cry Foul as New Seasons Shuts Down Photo Exhibition.

Local groups advocating on behalf of Palestinian rights, including a newly formed chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, are raising objections to a recent decision by New Seasons to shut down a photo exhibition at their SE Division store.  "Coming on the heels of the recent controversy over CUNY University refusing an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner on the basis of his critical views on Israel, we're concerned that an overly cautious New Seasons manager has taken a dangerous decision to suppress a local artist and censor an important discussion in our community," said Will Seaman of Jewish Voice for Peace.  "And it is ironic that the decision to take down a photo exhibit that had previously been approved and displayed at the SE Division store's community center involves a Jewish artist."  The artist in question is Stephen Kerpen, a local photographer who has traveled extensively throughout Israel and Palestine.

The exhibition includes nearly forty photographs of Bedouin and Palestinians who are struggling to maintain their communities and culture in the face of land dispossession and population transfer as the result of policies carried out by the state of Israel.  The village of Israeli Bedouins that Kerpen portrayed has been demolished over seventeen times in recent months by the Israeli government.[1] Kerpen said  "One of the roles of art is to reveal truths or as Paul Klee said "Art does not reproduce what we see, rather it makes us see."  I was excited about placing these photographs in what was described to me as a community space so that there might be public debate of the contentious issue of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict especially since so many of our tax dollars are being spent to support Israel's policies that create enormous human suffering."
 "We are especially troubled by the fact that in this case it appears that a complaint from a single customer resulted in the immediate removal of several photographs from the exhibition, and within a few hours the entire collection had been taken down," said Wael Elasady, a member of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights.  "In contrast, we know that hundreds of customer comment cards have been submitted to New Seasons politely asking that they stop carrying products produced in the apartheid state of Israel and they have refused to even meet with us to discuss the issue."  The campaign referred to by Elasady is part of the so-called Boycott-Divest-Sanctions (BDS) movement which targets Israeli imports at local businesses with the aim of pressuring Israel to end discriminatory policies and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.  The movement models its strategy on the divestment and boycott campaigns of the 1980s that targeted apartheid South Africa.   "It's hard to believe that this same grocery, which on so many issues is a beacon of progressive thought and action here in Portland, has taken this misguided action to prevent even the images of Israel's victims from being seen in their store."

 Kerpen said that store management told him that the New Seasons policy is to avoid controversy, but that when asked to see the policy, they said that such judgments were left to individual store managers' judgment.  "It is understandable that New Seasons would like to believe that carrying Israeli products and barring photographs of the victims of Israeli policies is being 'neutral', but we think many of their customers and the broader Portland community will disagree," said Mr. Kerpen.  "They dropped the Rockstar energy drink because the company was started with the help of that bigoted, homophobic KXL hate-radio host, Michael Savage;[2] we hope that this latest controversy will help New Seasons see that social responsibility sometimes requires tougher decisions than that, it has to include a willingness to talk with groups with which they may disagree, and it surely includes respecting artistic freedom, even when it's controversial."

 The local groups protesting the decision to take down Kerpen's photographs include Jewish Voice for Peace - Portland Chapter (JVP), Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights (AUPHR), and Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER).  They are asking New Seasons to reconsider, and to meet with them to discuss the grocery chain's policy on Israeli goods.  For more information, please call Peter Miller 503-358-7475.

 [1] "Palestinian Bedouins in al-Araqib: 'We won’t leave'", Charlotte Silver, The Electronic Intifada, March 17, 2011,
http://electronicintifada.net/content/palestinian-bedouins-al-araqib-we-wont-leave/9268
"Israel to Sue Bedouin Residents of Demolished Village for Demolition Costs",
Alternative Information Center (AIC), March 3, 2011,
http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/topics/jerusalem/3368-israel-to-sue-bedouin-residents-of-demolished-village-for-demolition-costs-

[2].  "In Oregon, Thinking Local", Marian Burros, January 2, 2006, New York Times.  ("But the chain has stopped selling the Rockstar energy drink, and not because it is made with caffeine, sugar and corn syrup. Rockstar's chief executive is Russell Goldencloud Weiner, who developed the company with the help of his mother and his father, Michael Savage, the far-right talk radio host. Mr. Rohter said he made the decision because he vehemently opposes Mr. Savage's views. "We have a few products we choose to make a stand on to help influence the direction of our community," he said. Mr. Savage did not respond to a message left at his workplace and could not be reached at home.")

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