Regarding the Brooklyn Museum

My wife and I just made a donation to the Brooklyn Museum, to support the institution generally, and for conservation work on Deborah Kass’ “OY/YO” sculpture that sits in the plaza in front of the Museum. Unfortunately, that conservation is now necessary because the sculpture was vandalized by activists who support the Palestinian liberation movement. As ABC News reported about the May 31 incident: “Organizers, including the group Within Our Lifetime, called on supporters to ‘flood’ and ‘de-occupy’ the museum, saying they wanted to take over the building until officials ‘disclose and divest’ from any investments linked to Israel’s actions in Gaza.

My perspective on the role of art museums and other institutions in the face of this conflict does not need to be restated here; I made those clear previously in pieces for Artnet and The Forward. But the “protest” that took place and that resulted in the defacing of Kass’ artwork, is an altogether different situation.

While activists have a right to protest in public spaces, they do not have the right to assault people (in this case, the Museum’s public safety officers) in the name of protesting. That isn’t called activism, it’s called assault.

Likewise, protesters have a right to carry signs and banners, but they do not have the right to graffiti those messages on other people’s property. That’s not called civil disobedience—it is destruction of property.

None of this is to be celebrated.

Back in March, I wrote in The Forward that “I am appalled by Israel’s actions in Gaza — just as I am appalled by the Hamas attack that precipitated them. I am equally appalled by Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank, including the expansion of settlements and violence against Palestinian civilians.” All of that remains true.

But I am also appalled by the actions of people who claim to support the cause of Palestinian liberation and in that see themselves as justified in their illiberalism. History is littered with morally self-righteous people and movements that fail because there is, in fact, a difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. This so-called movement continues to feel like it is only the latter, which deeply diminishes the cause they are trying to serve.

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