Pro-Israel McCarthyism: American Library Association Buries Israel Censorship Issue

By Chandler, Adam L. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 31, 1994 | Go to article overview

Pro-Israel McCarthyism: American Library Association Buries Israel Censorship Issue


Chandler, Adam L., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Pro-Israel McCarthyism: American Library Association Buries Israel Censorship Issue

By Adam L. Chandler

A four-year battle within the 56,000-member American Library Association (ALA), in which B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League took a leading role in activating thousands of Jewish librarians to attend conventions and revoke a resolution condemning Israeli censorship of Palestinian libraries, appears to have ended at this year's annual conference in Miami.

The ALA's Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) Action Council voted 17 to 1, with 1 abstention, in a 30-minute closed meeting, to abolish the Israeli Censorship and Palestinian Libraries Task Force (ICPLTF), and to prevent Action Council member David Williams from serving out his three-year term. The vote at the June 24-29 ALA conference followed accusations that the Chicago librarian used the organization as a platform for "anti-Semitism" and harassment of other Action Council members.

Williams was purged through the passage of two resolutions. The first, titled "A Resolution on the Restatement of Certain Ideals of ALA's Social Responsibilities Round Table," may be applied to any Action Council member. The second, "A Resolution on David Langlois Williams and his Position Within the Social Responsibilities Round Table of ALA" specifically calls for the abolition of the ICPLTF, which Williams chaired.

Officially, the ALA has an open meetings policy. The reason given for the closed session was the personal nature of the charges. The resulting decision transferred the issue of intellectual freedom and Israeli censorship of information from or about Palestinians to another SRRT committee.

The Social Responsibilities Round Table was created in the late 1960s to move progressive concerns onto the ALA's agenda. Although it is one of many ALA units, few have engendered such acrimonious debates among members as has the SRRT. In recent years, SRRT has been criticized by conservative ALA members for such actions as organizing the cancellation of ALA conferences in cities that pass homophobic legislation.

However, the level of controversy over the Israeli censorship issue was unprecedented. It became the catalyst for a movement to centralize control by the ALA Council over all positions taken by the Association and its affiliated committees.

The votes during the ALA's Miami convention resulted largely from pressure placed on the ALA over several years by pro-Israel activists both inside and outside the organization. While members of the SRRT Action Council said it was Williams' uncompromising insistence on advancing his position that brought about the decision to abolish the task force he chaired, Williams saw it as a case of "blaming the victim."

"Blaming the Victim"

Williams first forced the issue of Palestinian intellectual freedom onto the ALA's agenda in 1990, when he was attacked by members of the Chicago Jewish community, including B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League, over a bibliography he had compiled for the Chicago Public Library about the Arab-Israeli conflict. 1

At the ALA's June 1992 convention in San Francisco, after receiving extensive documentation (including Information Freedom and Censorship: World Report 1991, co-published by the Article 19 organization and the American Library Association) detailing the existence of censorship and other human rights violations in the Israeli-occupied territories, the ALA Council took a stand. It adopted a resolution that "calls upon the government of Israel to end all censorship and human rights violations in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, and in Israel itself; encourages the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in the quest for a peaceful and just solution of their conflict; and encourages ALA members to develop ways to support librarians, journalists, educators and others working for peace, human rights and freedom of information and expression in the Middle East. …

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