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How volunteers defeated anti-Israeli incitement in Melbourne

How volunteers defeated anti-Israeli incitement in Melbourne

A success story of people Taking A Pen

by E. Mozes*

The chapters of the piece, see below, are:
1 - "56" - A fiercely inciting anti-Israeli "art" exhibit in Melbourne a few weeks ago, in a public exhibition organized under the auspices of Melbourne City
2 - An international protest campaign, initiated by Honestreporting (?) and illustrated by my protest letter that I sent to Melbourne City
3 - The City's immediate decision to remove the exhibit
4 - The Letter of the Lord Mayor of Melbourne City, Mr. John So, I received on Friday (probably together with others who protested in writing).
5 - Brief conclusions


"56" - When I saw an e-mail of international alert calling to protest the art exhibit "56", first I wanted to delete it and jump to the next mail. 'Honestreporting', one of the best media-watch networks, was informing on 4 May about a severe case of anti-Israel incitement. But there are so many alerts, and we, our international network of volunteers, Take-A-Pen, want to focus and write in our dozen languages on Europe, where the situation is even worse. And this call was to protest to Melbourne City, under whose auspices that art exhibit was shown.

But when I looked at "56", "greeting" the 56th Independence Day of Israel with our beautiful national flag covered with terrible lies in red as if with blood, then within a second the media activist's fuse within me was burnt and it was not a question any more that I'd not go to sleep that night until that letter of protest to Melbourne City had been sent.

The text of "56" started with these words, written on an Israeli flag by red ink:

"Since the creation of Israel in 1948 :
200,000 Palestinians have been killed,
5,000,000 refugees have been created,
21,000 square kilometers of land have been annexed,
385 towns and villages have been destroyed,
and 200,000 settlements have been built."

The letter to the City of Melbourne I wrote and sent that night was this:

Sub: Anti-Israeli Incitement in Melbourne

Somebody, using the good name and the budget of the City of Melbourne, exhibited anti-Israel incitement and the patent propaganda lies of the Palestinian terror organizations, on the Flinders St. window space.

The factors of "inaccuracy" of the figures given in the exhibit are between 10 to 600 times (!!!) , so you can fairly call them 'lies':
The inscription says that in Israel "200,000 Palestinians have been killed, 5,000,000 refugees have been created, 21,000 square kilometers of land have been annexed,...200,000 settlements have been built".

Independent and far from Israel-friendly analyses by SIPRI, B'Tselem, and other agencies indicate that less than 20,000 Palestinians, in overwhelming part combatants, have been killed by Israeli forces since 1948.
(Meanwhile, Israel has lost 20,297 military personnel and victims of terror).

* In fact the actual number of Arab refugees in 1949 was, according to Israeli sources, 300,000 to 538,000. (The UN puts the figure at 720,000.) Due to deliberate neglect by Arab leaders and mass falsifications, their descendents have reached over 4 million and after 55 years are still 'refugees'. (The 800,000 Jewish refugees expelled from the Muslim world at the same time live in Israel as normal citizens for generations already.)

* The 21,000 square kilometers of land that the exhibit claims Israel 'annexed', apparently refers to the actual size of the whole Israel - without considering disputed territories. This is a clear indication that the 'artist' does not accept Israel's very existence.

* '200,000 settlements'?! Even if one includes the Golan and eastern Jerusalem, there are no more than 350 disputed settlements. The Lie factor here is a world record 600 times!!!

I am sure that such perpetrating of racial hatred is illegal in Australia. If in Israel anybody would dare to similarly incite against Muslims, he would find himself very fast behind bars. That somebody publicly propagates in Israel the anti-Australian lies of the Bali terrorists - could not happen for more than a minute.

I think that a sincere effort of the City of Melbourne to undo the damage and the real existential threat it brought, though apparently not deliberately, upon Israelis and Jews by giving room for this heinous incitement, would be quite appropriate.

If you honestly want to, I can advise you how.

E.M., Haifa, Israel

The next day Melbourne acknowledged receipt of my letter and promised proper attention.

The Removal
Two days later "Due to public protest an Anti-Israel work of "art" was removed this week from the display funded by the Melbourne City Council" - I read on 8 May, on the city's website!

The letters written to Melbourne by the public brought this victory!

One loud Hurrah to 'Honestreporting' for the alert and two to public letter-writing!

However, I started to really celebrate when I received the following elevating letter:

Letter from John So, Lord Mayor of Melbourne City:

Sent: Friday, May 21, 2004 6:39 AM

Subject: '24 Seven' exhibition by Utako Shindo & Azlan McLennan entitled 'fifty six'

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the exhibition entitled 'fifty six'

As soon as I became aware of the exhibition I called for the work to be closed immediately. To address the issues that have been raised, I have announced that there will be a review of Council's Arts Grants Program to ensure greater transparency and more community input.

The City of Melbourne supports a wide range of arts and cultural activity through its Art Grant Program. In October 2003, Council approved funding of $8,000 for '24 Seven' to support an annual program of up to 10 exhibitions in Flinders Street.

Council's purpose in funding '24 Seven' was to provide an opportunity for young and emerging visual artists to display their work as part of a managed program. '24 Seven' also delivered the benefit of activating a shopfront window in a public location that was otherwise empty.

It was not Council's purpose to fund political statements through '24 Seven'. Council never utilises its Arts Grant Program to convey political points of view. However, it is recognised that artistic expression is sometimes controversial and challenging.

Council's decisions regarding Arts Grants are informed by the expert advice of its Cultural Affairs Advisory Board. The Cultural Affairs Advisory Board, in its turn, reviews recommendations from independent assessment panels for each grant category. While decisions about artistic and cultural merit are difficult and potentially contentious, Council makes every effort to obtain the best advice and apply rigour to the evaluation of its Arts Grants.

In the specific instance of the October 2003 decision regarding '24 Seven' it was noted that this project had proceeded successfully in 2002 and 2003 and had a good track record.

The installation of fifty six in May 2004 has evoked a strong response, with many people expressing anger and affront at the nature of the work. Others have expressed concern regarding the accuracy of specific statements made in fifty six. On behalf of Council, I apologise to people who have been offended and will ensure that in the future, inaccurate, divisive and offensive political statements are not funded by Council's arts program.

The particular circumstances surrounding the installation of fifty six are that it was a late replacement to an exhibition that could not go ahead. Council was not aware of the content of this particular installation and the requirement for Council to be notified of controversial content in funded programs was not followed by '24 Seven'.

This is viewed by Council as a breach of its funding contract with '24 Seven' and the exhibition was dismantled prior to its scheduled opening on Wednesday 5th May.

The expressions of concern received by Council have also been conveyed to the Director of '24Seven' who has issued an apology to Council and other sponsors for offence caused to the broader public.

Thank you for your interest in this matter. Council is committed absolutely to tolerance and harmony and is proud of the multicultural nature of our city and its peoples.

(signed) John So

Lord Mayor

Thank You, John So! Both for the brave action and for this rarely fair, clear and responsible document of a public figure.


My conclusion of this, and of many other stories, whether successful as this one or going unnoticed, is simple: Take A Pen! Take your pen; it is always better to be in action than to sit frustrated passively. And never say: 'there-is-nothing-I-can-do".

Endre Mozes

Endre Mozes is founder and Chairman of Take-A-Pen http://www.take-a-pen.org/ a multilingual international letter-writing organization and website for the truth about Israel)

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