NEW YORK—An Israeli government request to pull funding from a cultural exhibition focused on exploring the theme of censorship because it contained work by the poet Dareen Tatour is an absurd encroachment on artistic expression, PEN America said in a statement today.

“Barbarism,” an exhibition of censored art produced by the municipality and the national lottery foundation, opened in Jerusalem on December 30, but only after organizers bent to Israeli government pressure and removed a work that included a poem by Tatour. Prior to the opening of the exhibit, Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev had called upon the Finance Ministry to halt funding for the exhibit. Tatour, a poet and Palestinian citizen of Israel who spent more than two years in jail or under house arrest since being detained in October 2015, was sentenced in July 2018 to five months in prison on charges of incitement to violence and support for terrorist organizations; she was released in September due to time already served. As part of the censorship exhibit, the poem for which Tatour was convicted, “Resist, My People, Resist Them” was going to be set to music in a collaboration with artist Meira Asher.

The exhibition was curated in part due to the closure of another Jerusalem art gallery, as well as other recent instances of art being censored; these works were sent to the exhibit’s curatorial team, which organized them into an archive. After the curators bowed to pressure, citing uncertainty regarding the legality of displaying Tatour’s work, four other artists withdrew their works from the exhibition in protest. The exhibition will now feature a display of the censorship pressures on the organizers.

“The censoring of specific works from an exhibit explicitly devoted to highlighting censorship is an absurd step and an unwarranted government infringement on the right to free expression,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “Rather than enabling the Israeli public to view a full range of creative artworks, officials have resorted to financial pressure. We call on Israeli authorities to refrain from censoring artistic expression, and to allow a diversity of views, including Tatour’s poem, to be displayed.”

At her trial, Tatour was charged with inciting violence and supporting terrorism for three posts on social media. During the trial, the prosecutor attempted to prove that Tatour was not a legitimate poet, and engaged in debate over the translation of certain passages of the poem from the Arabic to Hebrew, arguing that Tatour’s use of the word “shahid” in the poem glorified terrorism. Tatour denied the allegations, countering that her poem instead focuses on the suffering of Palestinian “martyrs” who have faced attacks by the Israeli state. An appeal to the original conviction was heard by the Nazareth District Court on December 25. PEN America had advocated on Tatour’s behalf since her detention, arguing that poetry should not be subject to criminal prosecution.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org