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July 5, 2021 12:42 pm

Free Speech Writer’s Group PEN ‘Concerned’ About Departure of Children’s Book Org Officer After Antisemitism Statement

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The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators logo. Photo: Facebook

The leading US writer’s group advocating the freedom of expression voiced “serious concern” on Friday about the recent resignation of a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) diversity officer over a statement condemning antisemitism, and its aftermath.

On June 10, April Powers, SCBWI’s chief equity and inclusion officer, published a statement denouncing a rise in antisemitic incidents, affirming that Jews “have the right to life, safety, and freedom from scapegoating and fear.”

While many thanked SCBWI for the condemnation, the statement was also met with some protest over its lack of discussion of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian bigotry, as well as backlash to the group’s blocking of one of its critics’ posts.

SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver later announced Powers’ resignation, and published an apology to “everyone in the Palestinian community who felt unrepresented, silenced, or marginalized.”

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On Friday, PEN America — a group of more than 7,500 writing professionals that advocates for free expression and a free press — called on the SCBWI to “clarify” the circumstances of Powers’ departure and “make clear its unequivocal, unapologetic denunciation of anti-Semitism and of other forms of bigotry.”

“Issuance of a factual public statement within the scope of a professional’s job should not be grounds for discipline or resignation under pressure,” the group said in a statement. “Biases and bigotries take on many variations and targets — anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms each have their own distinct characteristics and are worthy of forceful denunciation in their own right. The fight for human rights and dignity must oppose such hatreds in all their forms.”

“Absent any such indication, the condemnation of one form of hatefulness should not be read to imply indifference toward others. Complex and divisive issues are best addressed through reasoned dialogue, which can include heated debate,” PEN continued.

Powers — whose own apology was included in the group’s announcement of her resignation — issued a subsequent statement on Facebook, thanking supporters and saying that “the SCBWI did not fire me or ask me to resign.”

“There are good, kind people who work and volunteer there, many of whom are from marginalized, minority, or underrepresented backgrounds (including Jewish) themselves-who have also been harassed and trolled relentlessly,” she said. “While there is certainly more to this story, particularly horrific unmasked antisemitism outside of the SCBWI, I cannot comment further at this time other than to say I chose to resign because of the distraction this was causing.”

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