A federal funding agency has drawn criticism from B’nai Brith Canada for awarding a grant to Palestinian-born, Toronto-based artist Rehab Nazzal to produce an art exhibit that highlights the “Palestinians’ experience of resisting colonial violence.”
Nazzal, who was granted $35,000 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in 2015, is currently exhibiting Choreographies of Resistance at Western University’s McIntosh Gallery.
According to the event’s press release, the multimedia exhibit is the result of a year-long field research project in the West Bank and features a video installation shot through a gas mask and photographs that are projected onto hundreds of handmade slingshots in “tribute to Palestinians who have lost their lives in the intifadah.”
‘Had she not publicly been praising her brother as a martyr recently, one could maybe discount that element of the story’
“As an artist whose life is shaped by the violence of Israel’s military occupation, it’s my responsibility to provide an alternative representative record of the daily struggles of the Palestinians,” Nazzal said in the press release.
This isn’t the first time Nazzal’s work has drawn condemnation from members of the Jewish community.
In 2014, her exhibit, which was called Invisible and shown at an Ottawa city hall gallery, included photographs that glorified some of the most notorious Palestinian terrorists, including Abu Iyad, who was responsible for the 1972 Munich Games massacre, and Khalid Nazzal, the artist’s brother, who was the mastermind behind the Ma’alot school massacre that killed 22 children and three adults more than 40 years ago.
Following criticism from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and the Israeli Embassy of Canada, the Ottawa mayor agreed to review the policy governing the selection process of the gallery’s artwork.
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said he is hopeful that SSHRC might also reconsider granting taxpayer money to politically charged, one-sided projects in the future.
“We have made them very aware of our concerns,” Mostyn said, adding that he had yet to get a response from SSHRC.
Mostyn said he understands the freedom of speech and expression laws in Canada, “but at the same time, this is federal money, it’s taxpayer money.
“When it crosses the line into political propaganda and false propaganda … and it’s not talking about the knife intifadah and car rammings, suicide bombings and indoctrination for terror.… That becomes an issue.”
Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario, said he is “disgusted” that the exhibit justifies and glorifies Palestinian violence.
“No minority on campus should feel that violence against their community is condoned through art, and Jewish and Israeli students should not be an exception… Hillel has made its grave concerns with this exhibit directly known to the administration, and those conversations are ongoing,” Newburgh said.
Mostyn said federal funding agencies like SSHRC should ensure that taxpayer funds don’t go toward projects that are not in line with Canadian public policy.
“Had she not publicly been writing about her brother and praising her brother as a martyr recently, one could maybe discount that element of the story, but clearly that is a big part of the story. Her brother was a convicted terrorist planning the multiple murders and injuries of many, many civilians. And for anyone to publicly praise an individual such as that is deplorable. It’s absolutely deplorable and government bodies need to recognize the political context of their grants,” he said.
“They should think twice next year because there has been, quite rightly, public outrage since we exposed this and there should be conversations at the government level to ensure that public dollars don’t go to events like this in the future.”
Requests for comment from SSHRC and a Western University spokesperson were not answered by The CJN’s deadline.