An Act of Censorship: 
		American Library Association
		Becomes Another Israeli Occupied Territory
		By Jeffrey Blankfort

	NEW ORLEANS—The embattled Anti-Defamation League's 
National Director, Abraham Foxman, is "going to war — and he's 
going to enlist American Jews as his foot soldiers," wrote the 
No. California Jewish Bulletin's Garth Wolkoff this past May, and 
he wasn't joking. The first battle took place in this picturesque 
Gulf Coast port city  at the end of June and the ADL and its 
allies emerged victorious. The occasion was the annual membership 
meeting of the American Library Association and answering the call 
to the colors were hundreds of Jewish librarians who descended on 
New Orleans for a dual purpose: to overturn a resolution 
criticizing Israeli censorship that had been approved at last 
year's convention  and to demonstrate to their fellow librarians 
that judging Israel was not only not the business of the ALA, but 
also was not without career-threatening risks.  And they 
succeeded, overwhelmingly. No, the colors they rallied to weren't 
visible, but then they didn't have to be.

For a little under a year,  363 days to be exact, the American 
Library Association had stood alone as the only major American 
institution that had publicly and unequivocally condemned Israeli 
human rights violations and specifically, acts of censorship 
directed against Palestinian journalists, universities, and 

Headquartered in Chicago, the ALA, with 56,000 members is the 
oldest and largest library association in the world, and according 
to its outgoing president, Marilyn Miller, "it has engaged in 
issues of human rights and intellectual freedom around the world 
since its establishment in 1876."  In past years it has criticized 
censorship in Chile, South Africa, the Soviet Union, and, 
according to Miller "was one of the first and strongest voices to 
defend Salman Rushdie." Taking on Israel, however, is another 

Largely as a culmination of a nine-year effort on the part of 
Chicago Public Library Research Librarian David Williams, (MELB 
4/1 and 4/2) and the International Human Rights Task Force that he 
took over as chair in 1990, the ALA had passed two resolutions at 
its July 1, 1992 meeting in San Francisco.  The first condemning 
Israeli censorship and human rights violations and the second, 
protested the threatened expulsion of Palestinian librarian Omar 
Al-Safi and may have been a factor in having the order withdrawn. 
(MELB 4/1).

The main resolution referred to the "special relationship" 
enjoyed by Israel with the United States, "as the recipient of the 
largest amounts of annual U.S. aid per capita, and declared "the 
U.S. a party to these censorship practices and other violations of 
human rights."

To bolster the impressive documentation he presented 
substantiating Israel's censorship policies, Williams  arranged 
for Israeli journalist, Michal Schwartz, an editor of Challenge 
magazine and herself a victim of her country's censorship, to 
address the convention.  An Israeli brought by the opposition was 
unable to offer credible rebuttal and both resolutions passed by 
large margins.  Copies of the resolutions were sent to the U.S. 
government, to Israel and to the PLO.

Obviously the matter would not end there. The ADL believes, 
perhaps correctly, that neither it or Israel can afford a single 
defeat in its hasbara, the Israeli word for public relations. If 
the ALA was able to get away with criticizing Israel, who knows 
who might do it next?  The counterattack against the resolution 
and the character assassination of Williams began virtually the 
next day and continued up to and after the vote in New Orleans.

In a statement following the rejection of the resolution, 
Williams pointed out the implications of the entire issue:
"The significance of ALA's breaking with the public taboo on 
criticizing Israel was taken very seriously by the Anti-Defamation 
League and other Israel lobby groups whose role is to censor, 
intimidate, and otherwise stifle public criticism of Israel in the 
United States.  It is precisely because of the importance of U.S. 
aid that they could not afford to let Israel be criticized in such 
fashion by a mainstream professional organization."

It became  clear to Williams that reversal of the censorship 
resolution had become an ALA priority, as it increasingly came 
under the influence of what he described as the "highly-organized 
and well-financed [pro-Israel] political lobby."
Quickly taking charge was the ADL's Foxman who, according to 
the Chicago Jewish Star  (June 11-24), held several meetings with 
ALA leaders "to clarify Israel's position and to put the claims 
against Israel into context."

"The longer these resolutions remain on the books as ALA 
policy, the more legitimacy they gain among librarians and 
educators," wrote Foxman in a letter to Peggy Sullivan, ALA's 
Executive Director.

This was not the first time the ADL had gone up against 
Williams.  In 1989, it challenged a bibliography he had prepared 
on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that Chicago's chief librarian 
and a number of Middle East scholars had considered balanced, and 
through a "full court" mobilization of the area's Jewish 
community, would have got away with censoring both the list and 
Williams, had not their  plans been exposed in a local newspaper 
column. But as the Village Voice's Robert Friedman points out ( 
July 27) "this is not just a cautionary tale about one librarian's 
battle against book burning in the occupied territories.

"It is part of a larger story about the most powerful Jewish 
organization in America, and its attempt to determine what should 
be read in our nation's schools, what should be read in our 
nation's libraries, and what should publicly be discussed at 
public forums.

"Through its 31 offices across the country, the ADL monitors 
school curricula, library acquisition lists, and public 
conferences and symposiums, working behind the scenes to stifle 
intellectual freedom."  

The ADL, of course, would not have to go it alone, since its 
policy of defending "Israel, right or wrong," is the guiding 
principle of all the major Jewish organizations. So it was to be 
expected that the 1000-member Association of Jewish Libraries 
would weigh in with a letter protesting the resolutions. "Members 
of AJL have been outraged by the actions taken by ALA, AJL 
President Ralph Simon told the Jewish Star (June 11-24). That was 
just once response.  (By the time of the convention, the largest 
Jewish womens' organization, Hadassah, would play the most visible 
role, with the ADL content to stay in the shadows due, most 
likely, to the fear that publicity about its spy network would 
inhibit it effectiveness.)

Sometime after the San Francisco convention, an ALA attorney, 
commenting on the resolution, implied it was close to being 
"seditious" and in American Libraries (March '93), ALA Councilor 
Charles Bunge referred to the "embarrassing situation" caused by 
the Council's passage of the resolution.  It was also apparent, 
from American Libraries' Midwinter report, that "although the 
resolution could not be rescinded, the Council would have done so 
if it had not "already been widely distributed." As an alternative 
step, the Council referred the resolution to the ALA's 
International Resolutions Committee for "study and 

At its Midwinter meeting in Denver, the wheels that were to 
crush the resolution were picking up speed.  With the cooperation 
of the ALA leadership, mass-produced letters and materials were 
distributed denouncing the anti-censorship efforts as a front for 
the "terroristic" and "fascist" PLO (as well as Hamas) and 
suggesting, as Williams pointed out in a task force "Urgent Action 
Alert," that "anyone who challenged Israel's repressive policies 
was an antisemite and part of a plot to destroy Jews."

Williams reported that functionaries of the ADL and other pro-
Israel lobby groups were very much in attendance at conference 
sessions, and that "the ADL representatives arranged with the ALA 
Executive Office to have the customary guest registration fee 
waived, were outfitted with membership instead of guest convention 
badges," and directed to the business meeting of the Social 
Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) International Human Rights 
Task Force Meeting. 

"There," wrote Williams, "they copied down the names and 
institutional affiliations of everyone present." In one instance, 
an ADL operative grabbed a task force member who was engaged in 
conversation, and whirled him around, saying he wanted to see the 
name on his badge.  The tangible intimidation, says Williams, was 
only beginning:

"With the active complicity of the ALA leadership, pressure was 
brought to bear on librarians at all levels of the Association to 
go along with revoking the resolution.  Wilfully distorting the 
facts and context of Israel's repressive practices, the organizers 
of this campaign also engaged in the most vicious personal 
vilification of me… repeatedly equating criticism of Israel with 

Typical of this attack was a passage in a letter sent two weeks 
before the convention to ALA President-Elect Hardy Franklin by 
Ellen Zyroff Ph.D, the Principal Librarian of the San Diego County 
Library, and distributed to ALA members by the ALA Council.

"This man is wild-eyed and dangerous," wrote Zyroff.  "I do not 
know where his hate comes from, but it is palpable.  I do not know 
who paid the fare for the speaker who flew from Tel Aviv 
University, an institution known for activists against the state 
of Israel, or for that of the other out-of-town-speakers 
(referring to a 1991 forum in Atlanta) …. (emphasis added).

Marty Goldberg, head librarian at Penn State and co-chair of 
the Jewish Librarians Committee (JLC), a subgroup of the ALA,  
told the Jewish Star, that Williams "uses this as a platform for 
his political agenda.  We should condemn the resolutions and get 
the ALA out of the business of singling out one people, one 
nation, one religion. This has no place in the ALA.  There are 
issues of far more importance than censorship in Israel."  For 
Goldberg, the ADL and the Jewish librarians, a "far more important 
issue" was protecting Israel.

At the convention, Goldberg sent out a letter to JLC members, 
suggesting they stay away from a Sunday night forum,  sponsored by 
Williams' task force, preceding the vote on the resolution,  
because of "the danger of physical violence." ((At the Midwinter 
conference, Williams relinquished his chair of the International 
Human Rights Task Force and was authorized by the SRRT to initiate 
a new Task Force on Israeli Censorship and Palestinian Libraries.)

Goldberg's warning was ironic, since last year, a panel 
arranged by Williams featuring Michal Schwartz and Khader Hamide, 
one of the Palestinians fighting deportation in Los Angeles, was 
repeatedly disrupted, first by noisy pro-Israel activists and then 
by a false fire alarm. 

This year's forum, entitled "Israeli Censorship:  Here and 
There," drew an audience of about 120,  and proceeded without 
interruption with members from the audience who supported Israel 
receiving ample time to respond to the speakers:  Williams, Jay 
Murphy, former editor of Red Bass magazine, and myself.

Williams informed the audience that the ADL's Foxman had once 
again been invited,  and for the third time had declined.  In a 
letter to Williams he had written that "We have consistently 
refused to participate in your events because of the blatant 
anti-Israel agenda…" Moreover, he didn't believe "that the 
activities of the Anti-Defamation League are an appropriate 
subject for your roundtable discussion." 

In another clearly centralized attempt to sabotage the forum, a 
450 word "anonymous letter" was sent to and published in Jewish 
newspapers across the country signed alternately by "Concerned 
Jewish Taxpayer," "Jewish Taxpayer," "Anonymous Librarian" and "a 
librarian whose job would be jeopardized by identification," (the 
latter being a classic example of the victimizer pretending to be 
the victim).  

The thrust of the letter was to infer that "since public 
libraries are funded chiefly by local tax dollars,"  Jewish 
taxpayers ought to know about the forum and its title. In a thinly 
concealed threat in the next to last paragraph, the "writer" warns 
that "If public opinion causes enough institutions and individuals 
to stop sending in their hefty membership dues (often paid for 
with public funds) perhaps the ALA will reconsider its 

Foxman and the ADL didn't need to debate, nor did Goldberg need 
to attend the forum to state their case.  The "fix" was already 
in. Goldberg,  speaking at a meeting of the Jewish Librarians 
group the day before had all but admitted as much.  Acknowledging 
that he was usually a pessimist, he told his listeners that they 
"shouldn't worry" about Monday night's vote. "The ALA Council," he 
repeated several times, "wants out of this situation." 

The meeting of the Jewish Librarians next morning was attended 
by the Village Voice's Friedman, which caused Goldberg to declare 
the proceedings "off the record," a ludicrous request at what was 
advertised to be — and what has been ALA policy at all its events 
since 1971 —  a public meeting. 

At the meeting, ALA trustee from New Orleans, Helen Kuhlman, 
who preceded her  remarks with the same "this is off the record," 
caveat described how on the Thursday evening preceding the 
convention, she had hosted a reception for the ALA Council, the 
ADL and Hadassah,  and that they had nothing to worry about.  What 
exactly was going to happen she didn't say, but it was clear that 
the long arm of Israeli censorship was about to be extended to 
embrace the New Orleans Convention Center.

The Jewish Librarians later heard from a Young Republican 
stockbroker type named Aaron Albert, who said he had worked with 
CAMERA, a pro-Israel propaganda agency, as well as AIPAC, but 
evidently had been brought to the convention by Hadassah.  Albert 
brought with him a flyer, published by the women's group which was 
to be distributed to ALA members the night of the vote. 

The flyer carried a bold 48-point headline, "Let's stop 
fighting yesterday's wars." It suggested that "a new era has 
dawned" since the resolutions were drafted, and that the charges 
of censorship against Israel were "outdated and nuanced.; [and] 
grossly incompatible with the scholarly pursuits of the ALA." The 
failed  "peace" talks in Washington became the cover for the 
"With the peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors 
now well underway; this is not the time for divisive, counter-
productive resolutions, etc."

Whether the flyer was actually needed or provided just a 
convenient cover is debatable. Within an hour and a half of the 
Jewish Librarians meeting, the first bomb landed. The ALA Council, 
without any previous indication that the subject was to be on its 
agenda, revoked the 1992 resolution. Moreover, the Council 
approved guidelines for the future that will, in effect, allow 
them to overturn votes of the membership.  At that meeting, 
according to the report published in American Libraries (July/Aug. 
'93), Pres. Miller noted that "The mail has been intense," and 
that criticism has included the condemnation in the Jewish press 
of the annual conference program on Israeli censorship.  She was 
referring to the "anonymous" letter published in a number of 
Jewish papers mentioned earlier.

Nancy John, chair of the International Relations Committee 
informed the  Council that the Israeli censorship was the only 
item on its  agenda.  At an earlier Executive Board meeting, 
citing the "countless hours" the issue had consumed, suggested 
that in the future, "refer these things to us; we know a little 
something about international relations" (Amer. Lib., ibid.).  
Now, ALA parliamentarian Edwin Bliss was asked to present the 
options available to the Council for dealing with a resolution it 
had passed, acted on, and now regretted.

"An organization has a right to change its mind," he said, 
accord to the American Libraries report. Sticking by the  opinion 
rendered at the Midwinter conference that it was impossible to 
"rescind" something that had been distributed around the word, he 
suggested the term "revoke." And thus, Councilor Bernard Margolis 
so moved, the Council voted, and by a "safe margin" the resolution 
was interred.  "By all accounts," noted American Libraries, "it is 
the first time in in its history that the ALA has taken such an 

Prior to the vote, Pres. Miller announced that a special 
"fact-finding" Task Force made up of three former ALA presidents 
had been appointed to "review" charges that Williams engaged in 
"censorship, personal harassment and suppression of freedom of 

Moreover, Williams was requested to appear before the ALA 
Executive Board the following day, preceding the  full membership 
meeting, to answer criticisms that had been made against him.  

Also on the carpet was SRRT chair Stephen Stilwell who was 
questioned by the chair, Pres. Miller regarding the SRRT's control 
over Williams' task force; the use of the ALA's name by the task 
force; whether or not it received outside funding (clearly 
implying a PLO connection) and why Israel was being singled out 
all of which he calmly fielded in defending the work of the task 
force and the resolution.

Miller acknowledged to Stillwell that the Council had received 
"a huge stack of letters," and that "we all have been receiving 
these letters and we're all under pressure."

Cesar Cabellero, head of Extension Services for El Paso 
Community College, was the only member of the largely silent 13-
person board to speak up in the defense of the resolution.
"All our members have an inherent right to take stands on 
social issues.  I don't think he should be questioned. SRRT has 
the right to take positions.  I think this organization has a 
right to single out countries for violations of international 
freedom.  Some of our members are so sensitive they can't separate 
principles from politics." There would be few such voices heard 
for the rest of the convention.  

Williams was up next and took his seat at the foot of the long 
table. After he asked for and received permission to make a 
statement Miller repeated her criticisms about using the ALA's 
name and her "concern that we continue to pound on one country." 
"If you go to such extraordinary lengths to prevent Israel from 
being singled out, " Williams replied, "you become an extension of 
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the U.S." 

When asked,"How do you verify your facts?",  Williams  cited 
the Committee for Article 19 (the human rights convention against 
censorship), the Fund for Free Expression and the work of Israeli 
sociologist and demographer, Meron Benvenisti and noted that the 
ALA's International Resolutions Committee "did conclude, that the 
documentation was, in the main, very accurate." 

Having failed to refute Williams' arguments, the Council 
shifted to another tack — how he conducted the work of his task 
force — and would not let go of it.  It would be used on the floor 
of the convention, and afterward not only to undermine  the 
resolution but to isolate Williams and effectively terminate his 
task force.

"We have no problems with what you do," he was told, in seeming 
contradiction to everything that had just taken place. "it's just 
sometimes how you do it."

It was clear, that night, as we were passing out flyers — 
Williams' facts competing with Hadassah's fiction — that something 
was afoot. Jewish librarians in extraordinary numbers began 
arriving for the meeting, most of whom, apparently, were not 
regular participants in ALA meetings. (Since ALA is not a union, 
its conventions are not delegated. Every member has a vote if she 
or he can get there).

When the issue of reaffirmation of the Israeli censorship 
resolution came to the floor — it was now certainly necessary 
since the Council had revoked the previous one — the atmosphere 
was so intimidating that a resolution  condemning Egypt, which the 
SRRT was also going to present never got to the floor. 
SRRT Chair Stillwell arose to defend the resolution, citing its 
consistency with other actions by the Council such as its 
resolution opposing the Gulf War. He pointed out that no one had 
"disputed the truth of the allegations" in the Israeli censorship 
resolution; rather the Council had succumbed to outside pressure 
in deciding to revoke it.

His fellow SRRT member Sanford Berman called on the membership 
to show its disapproval of the Council's revocation action and 
reaffirm the resolution, but the votes just weren't there.
Speaker after speaker got up to defend Israel, to denounce the 
resolution, to question the ALA's wisdom in taking positions on 
international issues — something that  never seems to be a problem 
until it comes to Israel — and, in the atmosphere of triumphant 
intolerance that inundated every corner of the room — to all but 
ask for Williams head on a platter, calling for a special 
investigation of his activities and the end of the Task Force on 
Israeli Censorship.  He certainly had pushed their button.
Under those conditions, other librarians, some of them Jewish, 
who had supported the resolutions were clearly afraid to speak. 

This time there was no progressive Israeli voice to shame the 
flag-wavers with the truth.  

Following an overwhelming vote to cut-off debate, the 
resolution came to the floor.  The relative handful still having 
the courage to swim against the tide, and who rose when the "aye" 
vote was called, was no match for the hundreds of Jewish 
librarians (and their intimidated colleagues) who loudly stood up 
to declare the ALA another occupied Israeli territory.

"The vote was so lopsided it was ridiculous,"said ALA trustee 
Kuhlman. "What happened at ALA has been put to rest in a very 
definitive way" (No. Cal. Jewish Bulletin, July 16)
The following day, the SRRT "got the message." By a 9-4-1 vote, 
it stripped David of his task force chair, with the stipulation 
that until a replacement was found, every piece of correspondence 
or literature he wished to circulate, had to be approved by the 
SRRT chair.  Goliath had won this round.

The Jewish Librarian's Goldberg told the Washington Jewish 
Week's  (July 8) Sam Skolnik, that one of his committee's goals 
was to take international political issues off the ALA's front 
burner and put more apparent concerns up front.  "Libraries in 
this country have tremendous problems," he said. [The ALA] 
shouldn't be involved in these complicated issues. Let's stay  out 
of it." 

Williams has other ideas and the last word.

"Although we were overpowered in New Orleans, this may well 
turn out to be a Pyhrric victory for the Israel lobby.  In the 
course of this long struggle, thousands of librarians were made 
aware of Israeli human rights abuses, and the ALA officially 
criticized them — causing great embarrassment for defenders of 
Israel in the U.S.  

"The subsequent spectacle of the ALA leadership going down on 
its knees before the Israel lobby to exempt Israel from criticism 
will not go unnoticed by all those who sincerely believe in the 
consistent application of human rights principles.  This issue 
will continue to haunt the ALA and the Israel lobby, until the 
time comes when America is fed-up with supporting an apartheid 
state in the Middle East." 

* * * 

In the weeks following the convention, the special task force 
appointed to investigate Williams was canceled after (one would 
like to think) the ALA comprehended the Kafkaesque nature of the 
project and the sad contribution the ALA had already made to the 
history of censorship.