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Pro-Palestinian protesters demand library put author's books back on shelves

Ola Shaheen and her two daughters came out to Sunday's rally to show their support for Quebec children's author Élise Gravel, whose books were removed from the shelves of Montreal's Jewish Public Library over comments she made on social media. (Mélissa François/CBC - image credit)
Ola Shaheen and her two daughters came out to Sunday's rally to show their support for Quebec children's author Élise Gravel, whose books were removed from the shelves of Montreal's Jewish Public Library over comments she made on social media. (Mélissa François/CBC - image credit)

Wearing keffiyehs and waving Palestinian flags, protesters gathered Sunday in front of Montreal's Jewish Public Library to show their support for Quebec author Élise Gravel after the library removed her books from its shelves because of her online comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The library, which doesn't belong to the city of Montreal, did not respond to CBC's request for comment.

But it told CBC earlier this week that "while the content of her books is objectively not offensive, we have taken the decision to relocate them from our open shelves to closed stacks."

At the same time, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said that the author's posts engaged in antisemitic tropes, conspiracy theories and myths.

But Gravel disagrees. She has said that — unlike her books — social media isn't for kids, and her posts take aim at the way the Israeli government treats Palestinians, not Jewish people as a whole.

The library should return Gravel's books to its shelves, said protester Fabienne Presentey, a member of the group Independent Jewish Voices.

Gravel is being censored for showing empathy for Palestinians who are being killed by the Israeli military, said Presentey, whose group advocates for the rights of Palestinians and helped organize the rally.

"It is very important for us as Jews to call out antisemitism when it is really antisemitism," she said.

"What Élise Gravel has posted is not anti-Jewish hate. And what we're saying as Independent Jewish Voices is that yes, we can criticize Israel as a country. We will criticize a military operation of a government, and that is not antisemitic."

Protesters called for Élise Gravel’s books to be returned to the library’s shelves.
Protesters called for Élise Gravel’s books to be returned to the library’s shelves.

Protesters called for Élise Gravel’s books to be returned to the library’s shelves. (Mélissa François/CBC)

Ola Shaheen came with her two daughters, who each had books by Gravel in hand.

"We're here because first, Élise Gravel is our favorite author, and because we believe as a family in freedom of speech," Shaheen said.

André Marois said he wanted to show his support for Gravel as a fellow children's book writer, adding that libraries must remain places of "liberty."

Another protester, Yasmeen Naim, also cited censorship of people who support Palestinians as a reason for demonstrating.

"I think that the majority of the world wants a ceasefire, a permanent ceasefire, an end to the siege, the occupation and apartheid," she said.

Naim said removing the books is an "attack on education" and runs contrary to the values of a democracy.

Counter-protest also held

On the other side of the street, several people draped in Israeli flags held up "Release the hostages" signs.

One of the counter-protesters, Paula David, called the library protest "hate" and accused Palestinians of attempting to ethnically cleanse Jews.

Other pro-Israeli supporters refused to speak to CBC.

Élise Gravel says her posts are not antisemitic. She says she is against all forms of discrimination.
Élise Gravel says her posts are not antisemitic. She says she is against all forms of discrimination.

Élise Gravel says her posts are not antisemitic. She says she is against all forms of discrimination. (Radio-Canada)

Online posts under scrutiny

On Thursday, a motion presented by Québec Solidaire in support of Gravel and other writers whose books have been targeted was unanimously adopted at the national assembly.

Some of Gravel's posts use the words "apartheid" and"genocide" to describe Israeli policies toward Palestinians. Others describe the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes when Israel was founded in 1948.

Gravel has modified at least two of her posts, changing the word "they" to ""Netanyahu and his allies."

In a post from two weeks ago, Gravel walked back a comment she'd made about what she had said was Israel possessing "the largest skin bank in the world, harvested from Palestinians."

Gravel removed the comment, writing "I'm thankful to anyone who points out questionable information I might be inadvertently relaying."

"There is a lot of disinformation circulating around this crisis, and I don't want to accidentally contribute to it."