UK: Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester in ongoing censorship battle against Israel critics

The Whitworth Art Gallery, run by the University of Manchester, withdrew its statement of support for the Palestinian people last week. The statement was part of the “Cloud Studies” exhibition organized by the Forensic Architecture (FA) research group. The statement was attacked by supporters of the Israeli state.

The Whitworth Art Gallery with the Cloud Studies exhibition promoted on the building (WSWS Media)

FA said she would remove the entire exhibit rather than smack it. The gallery reinstated the statement but accompanied by a counter statement from the Manchester Jewish Representative Council (JRC) attacking it. The gallery has now also released a legal defense of the original statement.

The innocuous title “Cloud Studies” belies the important subject of the exhibition, which is an investigation into various crimes of imperialism. Borrowing scientific techniques from meteorology, architecture and satellite imagery, FA has extrapolated the changes resulting from human, military or industrial intervention.

FA describes itself as “an academic research group that works with communities on the front lines of conflict around the world”, producing architectural evidence in legal contexts and for advocacy purposes. FA explains, “The need for forensic architecture as a practice stems from the fact that contemporary conflicts increasingly take place in urban areas where homes and neighborhoods become targets and most civilian casualties are occurring. produce in cities and buildings. “

FA has been involved in numerous international investigations “into state crimes and human rights violations”. In 2017, FA provided a digital model of a murder site to a court investigation into the German far-right terrorist group National Socialist Underground. The following year, FA’s work was nominated for the Turner Prize. He has repeatedly exposed the war crimes committed by the Israeli government against Palestinians and seeks changes in Israeli law and practice.

Cloud Studies is investigating incidents related to issues such as the use of tear gas against protesters in Santiago, Chile in 2019, and the impact of the Beirut port explosion in 2020. Rafah bombing explores “the deadliest and most destructive day of the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza,” August 1.

FA and Amnesty International were denied entry to Gaza, so they built a narrative of the day’s events through thousands of images and videos posted online or sent to them directly. FA drew attention to the “Hannibal Directive”, officially withdrawn in 2016, allowing the use of “maximum available firepower” in the event of a soldier being captured, regardless of the risk to the captive or to them. civilians in the area.

The use of white phosphorus in urban areas reports that evidence of the use and impact of this barbaric weapon by FA has forced the Israeli government to end its use.

Herbicide war in Gaza, Palestine investigating the spraying of herbicides along the Gaza border to improve visibility of military operations. They were only sprayed when the wind was blowing in the east, to make sure they would blow on Gaza and not on Israel. The herbicide drift has reached 300 meters in Gaza, and satellite images show a dead zone of old arable land.

FA’s opening statement, “Forensic Architecture Stands Alongside Palestine”, written on the latest attack on Gaza, pays tribute to those who “continue to document and recount events on the ground and to fight against this violence, apartheid and colonization ”. He declares that “this liberation struggle is inseparable from other global struggles against racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and settling colonial violence.”

Opening Statement from Forensic Architecture, “Forensic Architecture Stands Alongside Palestine” (WSWS Media)

Zionist legal lobby group UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) called it “propaganda”, accusing the gallery of “inflammatory” language that could cause “racial discord”. UKLFI suggested that this could put the gallery in violation of its public sector equality obligations.

UKLFI was founded in 2011 by British lawyers’ concerned about the failure to fight use and the abuse of the law by the enemies of Israel ”(emphasis added). They intended to “use their pro bono skills to fight BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] and the delegitimization of Israel.

UKLFI has a history with FA and the Whitworth Gallery. In 2018, the UKLFI launched a smear of the FA, demanding that it not win the Turner because its documents on Palestine amounted to “modern bloody libel that could promote anti-Semitism.”

In June of this year, after the crackdown on Gaza resumed, the Whitworth posted a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people online. This was quickly removed following objections from UKLFI.

University of Manchester vice-president for social responsibility Nalin Thakkar withdrew the FA’s statement, offering a despicable apology. UKLFI sententiously said it was “unacceptable” for the gallery to “display deeply problematic content” twice in a matter of weeks. They added: “We hope that lessons have been learned and that the same mistakes will not happen again. “

It is FA’s credit for not having accepted it.

UKLFI director Daniel Berke had tried to link FA and Exposure to an upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents following the latest attacks on Gaza. The International Center for Justice for the Palestinians (ICJP) called the charge an “apparent attempt to smear them and censor and censor information about Israel’s human rights violations, simply because the exhibit includes the impact Israeli violations of the Palestinians “. The ICJP called the “anti-Semitic” claim “manipulative, misguided and dangerous”.

FA founder Professor Eyal Weizman said he believed the FA’s work did more “to dispel prejudice and hatred, including against Jews, than unconditional support for apartheid in Palestine ”.

Eyal Weizman (Credit: Forensic Architecture 2020)

When the opening statement was deleted “despite our repeated objections,” Weizman demanded the immediate closure of the entire exhibition. The Israel-born professor said it was “scandalous that the University of Manchester interfered with our exhibition after pressure from a self-proclaimed lobby group known to promote the far-right settler movement in Israel and for its supporters. attacks on groups providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians. For this group to be accepted as arbiter on parity issues in Palestine is a travesty. “

Weizman noted that FA’s statement explicitly opposed and condemned anti-Semitism, while UKLFI’s concern about the duty of equality in the public sector was expressed without any reference to Palestinian groups.

The UKLFI attack on Weizman provides further evidence that the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) redefining anti-Semitism is explicitly a political weapon aimed at preventing legitimate criticism of the Israeli state. UKLFI said Weizman is “banned in the United States for security reasons” and “opposed the internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism.”

Last year saw the first major American FA show. Two days before his departure, Weizman was informed that his visa waiver had been revoked. During his visa application, he was told that an “algorithm” had identified a security threat, possibly triggered by people he had interacted with, places he had visited recently, or a combination. of these. He was told his case could be assessed “faster” if he provided additional information, including fifteen years of travel history and “the names of anyone in my network who I think might have triggered the trip. ‘algorithm. I refused to provide this information.

FA’s refusal to accept a censored exhibit forced the gallery to close for “relocation” and reopen with the restored statement. UKLFI then criticized the university for having “reversed its decision to withdraw the introductory statement”.

Gallery director Alistair Hudson then added space for “different perspectives,” a message from the JRC accusing the exhibit of “false statements,” ordering the public “not to assume that a statement in this exhibit is true ”.

The JRC’s message is an unequivocal defense of Israel, “the ONLY democracy in the Middle East.” To claim that Israel is a colonial enterprise is anti-Semitic. Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel, which is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.

On Sunday, the Whitworth agreed to release another statement, the ICJP’s legal opinion on why the FA’s statement was based on international law. The whole thing, as Weizman put it, was “a mishegas (Madness), and not all cultural conflicts necessarily needed “balance.”

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