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August 20, 2021 11:49 am
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UK Art Gallery Reinstates Controversial Israel Text After Protests, Adds Rebuttal From Jewish Community

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The Whitworth Art Gallery. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A British art gallery in Manchester is presenting at the entrance of a controversial exhibition a statement from the local Jewish community in support of Israel, after deciding earlier this week to again display another note that accuses Israel of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and occupation.

The Whitworth Art Gallery, which is run by Manchester University, re-opened the “Cloud Studies” show on Friday. When visitors enter the exhibit, they are now shown a message by the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region (JRC) warning visitors that the exhibit “contains false statements” and asking the public “not to assume that any statement in that exhibition is true.”

“Israel is the ONLY democracy in the Middle East,” the JRC wrote, rejecting accusations of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. “To claim that Israel is a colonial enterprise is antisemitic. Jews have right to self-determination in Israel, which is the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland.”

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of the advocacy group UK Lawyers for Israel, commented, “While we welcome this mitigation of some of the damage done by the misleading contents of the exhibition and its introductory statement, we remain concerned that the decision to host this exhibition was taken without due consideration of community relations.”

The Whitworth Art Gallery sparked outrage among Israel supporters when it opened “Cloud Studies” on July 2. Created by the research group Forensic Architecture (FA), the exhibit featured at the entrance a statement titled “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine.”

The message accused Israel of engaging in the “occupation” of Palestinians and “the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian neighborhoods by Israeli police and settlers.” It further stated: “We honor the courage of Palestinians … [who] struggle against this violence, apartheid and colonization. We believe this liberation struggle is inseparable from other global struggles against racism, white supremacy, antisemitism, and settler colonial violence and we acknowledge its particularly close entanglement with the Black liberation struggle around the world.”

The exhibit also discusses Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and talks about the Palestinian “struggle against apartheid,” the problem of “settler colonial violence” and “occupied Gaza.”

Whitworth gallery initially agreed to remove the note at the start of the exhibit on August 13, following complaints by UK Lawyers for Israel, the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, North West Friends of Israel and the Manchester Zionist Central Council, which called the statement “factually incorrect” and “dangerously one-sided.”

However, FA responded to the decision by closing the “Cloud Studies” exhibit “with immediate effect” on August 15. That same day, the gallery tweeted that the exhibit was closed due to “unforeseen circumstances.” Pro-Palestinian groups then protested on Wednesday outside Whitworth, and Manchester’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign said more than 1,000 complaint letters were sent to the gallery.

Following the pressure, the gallery’s director, Alistair Hudson, announced on Wednesday that the exhibit would reopen with the original statement on display. FA shared on Twitter a video of the agency’s director, British-Israeli professor Eyal Weizman, reposting the note at the entrance of the exhibit.

Hudson said, “The Whitworth is mindful of artistic freedoms and the various duties which apply across the work of the gallery, including rights around freedom of speech and expression and academic freedom.”

He added, “We recognize the concerns raised, in particular about the inclusion of a written statement by Forensic Architecture, expressing their own views, displayed at the entrance to the exhibition. That’s why the Whitworth has developed a space which gives voice to different perspectives on the issues raised by the exhibition and help contextualize them. It will be displayed prominently in the gallery.”

The art gallery was criticized in June for posting on its website a statement expressing “solidarity with Palestine” and support for “decolonialization” following Operation Guardian of the Walls. The statement was subsequently removed following complaints from UK Lawyers for Israel.

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