Letter from Don Lash to NYPL on one-sided “controversial” labeling of Israel/Palestine studies

Letter from Don Lash to New York Public Library President, on one-sided “controversial” labeling of books on Israel/Palestine:

Dear President Marx,

I previously communicated with your office in an e-mail on August 5, during which I expressed concern that access to important work by the prominent academic historian Ilan Pappe was restricted to a non-circulating research collection and could only be viewed by appointment. It was also given a “trigger warning” in the form of a categorization as “controversial literature.” I informed you that I had made an offer through AskNYPL to arrange donation of copies of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine to circulate. I have since received a response, and I was pleased that this offer was accepted.

My remaining concern is over the fact that the Dorot Jewish Division, the research collection that as of now has the only copy of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, is permitted to to characterize work critical of Zionism and Israel as “controversial,” a designation that is not used for pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian literature in its collection or elsewhere in the NYPL catalog. The designation is used for a range of historical and political works beyond those of Pappe. More troublingly, in effect such works are associated with other literature given trigger warnings by the collection, most notably virulently anti-Semitic literature and Holocaust denial literature. The implicit suggestion is that these categories are somehow akin, which is not only offensive but indefensible on the merits. In addition to the content-based stigmatization of one perspective on the history of Palestine/Israel, the trigger warning is a disservice to students and scholars, who may be misled by the characterization into thinking the work is of dubious quality. This is particularly likely when access is restricted and library patrons would have to make an extraordinary effort even to see the work.
I suggest that you or a designee look at how the collection is applying these trigger warnings, what criteria is used, and whether the effect of this practice is to privilege work promoting one viewpoint and disadvantage work promoting others. While these practices appear to be limited to the Dorot collection, I think this matter affects the integrity of NYPL as a whole.

Thank you for your careful consideration of this matter.

Don Lash