Censoring Zionists Versus Palestinians: Different and Unequal

Art institutions across the United States are repressing pro-Palestinian artists. Mašina spoke with Elizabeth Larison, NCAC’s director of the Arts and Culture Advocacy Program, about the broader trends within the Art Censorship Index.

Last week, the US-based National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) published an interactive map-based database tool that documents and describes incidents of censorship of artists post-October 7th.

The database is not exclusively aimed at documenting suppression of pro-Palestinian artists per say and instead aims to capture all acts of censorship related to Israel and Palestine broadly. However, the overwhelming majority of the cases in the database are related to artists whose work was canceled due to their support of Palestine.

NCAC treats these incidents of censorship as equal and does not take a stance on the substance of each and every occurrence of censorship. However, the content of an artist’s opinions in this context matters quite a bit.

Take the case of Odalys Burgoa and Roy Baizan, whose Día de los Muertos art display was cancelled simply because the piece included the Palestinian flag.

In contrast, concerts for the Jewish American singer, Matisyahu, were canceled in Tuscon, Arizona, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Chicago, Illinois, after he came out not only in support of Israel, but also for destruction of anyone who opposes the existence of the apartheid settler-colonial state.

In an interview with the newspaper, Newsweek, Matisyahu exclaimed “I would like to see any terrorist, Hamas, or person who believes Israel has no right to exist or the Jews have no right to it, I would like Israel destroy those people.”

Of course, there is a world of difference between not wanting the Zionist state to exist versus not wanting Jewish people to exist. As is common with Zionists, Matisyahu conflates Zionism, a political ideology based on the idea that Palestine belongs to Jewish people and Jewish people only, with Judaism.

Elizabeth Larison, NCAC’s director of the Arts and Culture Advocacy Program told us that the index broadly includes incidents where a piece of art includes some mention of Palestine, its culture, or the region, as well as incidents where an artist’s work was cancelled due to their personal politics and opinions on Palestine. Elizabeth stressed that this is a dangerous trend due to the fact that institutions will be pressured to continue cancelling other artists due to other opinions that some may disagree with. She notes that cultural intuitions are by definition venues for all types of expression.

Another important trend to highlight is the excuse that institutions give as a reason to cancel artists, such as so-called “security concerns.” Elizabeth states that this vague rationale is often given without any evidence of a credible threat of violence or otherwise. She claims that what institutions are really looking to avoid is protest and dissent, which is a fundamental and basic democratic right.

Beyond protests, the art world is also heavily intertwined with the elite, who in the US are overwhelmingly Zionist. The capitalist class in the US are heavily invested in shutting down support of Palestine. For example, private chats obtained by the Washington Post show how Art Giants colluded to pressure New York’s Mayor, Eric Adams, into more police repression of the pro-Palestinian campus protests.

The group chat in question included Len Blavatnik, benefactor of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and Tate Modern; Michael Dell, the tech billionaire and founder of the Magnum Photos Collection; Daniel Loeb, art collector and former trustee of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; Howard Schultz, former Starbucks CEO and failed presidential candidate as well as a top art collector; and Joseph Sitt, a real estate investor who funded the Coney Art Walls mural initiative.

In the chat, Sitt wrote that Mayor Adams was seeking their counsel on how to crackdown on the campus protests. Among their ideas was hiring private investigators to work with the New York Police department.

Elizabeth underscores the fact that all of this McCarthy-like suppression (which is a reference to the anti-communist hysteria during the 1940s and 1950s in the US) is nothing new. She notes that “It [anti-Palestinian suppression] certainly didn’t start with October 7th, but it has boomed since then.”

The NCAC hopes that the Index will inspire other censored artists to come forward with their own stories and that it will pressure institutions to stop the curtailing of pro-Palestinian artists.



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