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Hundreds protest New York’s Museum of Modern Art board’s Israel ties

Activists accuse members Ron Lauder, Leon Black, Steven Tananbaum, others of ‘supporting apartheid rule’ and ‘artwashing’ the ‘occupation of Palestine’

Protesters attend a Palestine solidarity rally against board members of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) who they accuse of supporting Israeli military efforts, outside MoMA in Manhattan, New York on May 21, 2021 (Ed JONES / AFP)
Protesters attend a Palestine solidarity rally against board members of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) who they accuse of supporting Israeli military efforts, outside MoMA in Manhattan, New York on May 21, 2021 (Ed JONES / AFP)

Nearly 300 people have signed a protest letter against the Museum of Modern Art’s board in New York because some of its members have ties to Israel, with a rally outside the museum last week drawing several hundred pro-Palestinian protesters.

The letter was published against the backdrop of 11 days of fighting between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip that saw Palestinian terrorists rain over 4,000 rockets on the Jewish state. Israel responded with intensive airstrikes against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Palestinian enclave.

The letter, published Friday, the same day that a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas began, says it “aims to build decolonial solidarity across borders by drawing attention to MoMA’s entanglement with the mutually reinforcing projects of settler-colonialism, imperialism, and racial capitalism in Palestine, the US, and around the world.”

It was organized by a pro-Palestinian group called Strike MoMA, a coalition of activists who for some ten weeks protested against the museum board. The activists, calling themselves the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings, are protesting board members’ links to countries involved in a range of conflicts and human rights issues.

Protesters attend a Palestine solidarity rally against board members of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) who they accuse of supporting Israeli military efforts, outside MoMA in Manhattan, New York on May 21, 2021 (Ed JONES / AFP)

Among those who signed the letter are activist Angela Davis and artist Michael Rakowitz as well as Korakrit Arunandchai, Chloe Bass, Meriem Bennani, and scholars Ariella Azoulay, Claire Bishop, and Fred Moten.

The letter names MoMA trustees Leon Black, Paula Crown, Ronald Lauder, Daniel Och, and Steven Tananbaum, accusing them of being “directly involved with support for Israel’s apartheid rule, artwashing not only the occupation of Palestine but also broader processes of dispossession and war around the world.”

It called out Tananbaum for his foundation donating to help send young adults to Israel via the Art Institute of Chicago — an apparently false accusation based on an incorrectly designated gift from the foundation to the art institute which mistakenly said the funds were intended to “support Israel through bringing young adults to Israel.” The Art Institute of Chicago told The Times of Israel that the foundation had accidentally “transposed the intended usage of their gift to us with their gift to Birthright Israel.” The Institute said the $1.8m gift was in fact used to purchase the artwork “A Love Supreme” by Julie Mehretu.

Och and Black were specifically named in the letter for their ties to the Birthright Foundation which  brings young adults to Israel. Crown, whose “wealth comes from her husband,” was named because her spouse James Crown is director of General Dynamics, an armaments producer that supplies Israel.

Lauder, MoMA’s honorary chair, the letter noted, is the president of the World Jewish Congress. It denounced him for lobbying heads of state to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of anti-Semitism which, the letter claims, is “widely used to conflate criticism of Israel with Anti-Semitism” and has resulted in “criminalization of speech in support of Palestinian liberation.”

“MoMA cannot pretend to stand apart from the attack on Gaza or the Occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem more broadly,” the letter said. “Because the corporate power and wealth that sits atop the museum suffuses all of its operations, there are no clean hands.

“We unequivocally denounce the continuation of the Israeli settler colonial project, its apartheid regime, and the interlocking technologies of power and violence that enable it.”

Strike MoMA organized a protest for the same day the letter was published, May 21, outside the museum. Around 300 demonstrators showed up and rallied outside the museum for an hour.

As part of its publicity campaign for the protest, the group posted to its social media accounts a map showing Palestine encompassing all of the modern State of Israel.

Such imagery is widely used to indicate that Israel has no right to exist.

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