Pressure mounts on Jewish public library to reverse decision to remove Elise Gravel books

After a weekend protest and condemnation from the National Assembly, the library’s executive director says he will issue a statement in the coming days.

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Côte-St-Luc has decided not to remove from public view the works of a prominent Quebec children’s book author whose social media posts about the war between Israel and Hamas have sparked outrage among some members of the Jewish community.

The move comes as the Jewish Public Library is reportedly reevaluating its controversial decision to move Elise Gravel’s books to closed shelves, a change that means patrons must ask a librarian to access them.

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On Sunday, protesters, including some members of the Jewish community, gathered in front of that library, denouncing the “reprehensible act of banning books.” That demonstration followed a unanimous motion by the National Assembly last week condemning the library’s decision.

“The Jewish Public Library “We will respond either (Wednesday) or in the coming days with an official statement,” Alain Dancyger, executive director of the library, in a statement to The Gazette.

In Côte-St-Luc, which has a large Jewish population, Mayor Mitchell Brownstein said at a city council meeting Monday that his city library will leave the writer/illustrator’s books on its public shelves.

He cited the township’s book policy. He states that libraries must “facilitate access to constitutionally protected forms of expression…including those considered unconventional, unpopular, or unacceptable by some groups and individuals.”

The policy goes on to state that libraries must “resist calls for censorship and the adoption of systems that deny or restrict access to resources.”

Brownstein was responding to a resident who asked if the library would follow the Jewish Public Library’s decision to limit access to Gravel’s books.. A Côte-St-Luc city councillor, Mike Cohen, had publicly floated the idea of ​​removing the books from public view.

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Brownstein said Gravel’s social media posts “are clearly anti-Semitic” and the city “strongly condemns the comments and positions of this particular author as unacceptable and totally contrary to the views of the city council and the residents of Côte-St- Luc.”

However, her books are not offensive, the mayor added. She said other works in the city library are by authors “with the same or worse views and opinions.”

If Gravel’s 70 works are removed from public shelves, “we would have to form a committee to look at who else in our library has written books not necessarily with bad content,” but whose opinions the city does not share, Brownstein said.

“That’s not something (our) public library is supposed to do.”

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Councilman Oren Sebag said Gravel “has been saying some pretty damaging things on social media” about Israel. He urged the council to “take the necessary steps to remove (Gravel’s) books from our library.”

But fellow councilman Mitch Kujavsky opposed moving Gravel’s books. He said he has one himself: a board book titled I’m Hungry.

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“The author uses hate and vitriol (on social media), but the book helped my children learn to read,” she said. “The author is the author. His books are his books. And those things are completely mutually exclusive.

“However, that being said, we will not have it in our library. We will not promote it in any way. But, in my opinion, eliminating their books that help children learn to read is too much.”

Cohen, for his part, said he accepts the city’s book policy. He pointed out that thanks to the publicity that he has received on the subject, ““People know what (Gravel) means and everyone can make their own decision about whether they want to buy a book written by someone like that or not.”

Gravel, who has 217,000 followers on Instagram, has been regularly sharing posts in solidarity with Palestinians, often using images of a cartoon character making statements.

Gravel, whose book La clé à molette won the Governor General’s Literary Award for children’s illustration in French in 2012, has said that while she is “very critical of the Israeli government and its military operations in Gaza and the West Bank, I strongly condemn any form of racism, and that includes anti-Semitism.”

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Contacted on Tuesday, Gravel declined to comment and referred a reporter to a statement she posted on social media:

“I am saddened that access to my books is limited for these children, but I want to state that I have no anger toward the library, the staff, or the administration,” Gravel wrote. “I understand the toxic climate and social pressures that push people and organizations to self-censorship and censorship.

“While I don’t agree with the decision to remove my books from the shelves, I feel sorry for the people who have made decisions like this. “Please don’t attack them.”

The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs has said Gravel’s online activities “contribute to the alarming rise in anti-Semitism.”

The organization said it invoked “the anti-Semitic trope of ritual murder” when, in a post, it wrote: “They are convinced that we agree with their idea of ​​​​exterminating Palestinians, as if they were vermin. Even children, even newborns.”

On Sunday, two groups, Independent Jewish Voices of Montreal and Palestinian and Jewish Unity, organized a rally in front of the Jewish Public Library in support of Gravel.

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“As Jews, we are historically obligated to reject book bans,” the groups said in a statement. “The images of Nazis burning our books continue to remind us not only how fragile but also how essential freedom of expression is.”

The groups added: “Expressing solidarity with the Palestinians cannot be an anti-Semitic act because it is a cry against the desire to annihilate a people. “Banning Elise Gravel’s books is an act of pure fear of facing the events in Gaza.”

Gravel’s books were removed from the public shelves of the Montreal Jewish Public Library following complaints about his statements on social media.

Its 30 books are now only available to patrons who request them. The library said it took the step to recognize “the sensitivities surrounding the author’s social media posts.”

Gravel has clarified some of his statements on social media. For example, she removed a post that initially suggested that “Israel has the world’s largest bank of skin, harvested from Palestinians.” In a later post, he said his initial statement was “problematic as it is an unproven claim.”

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