I have followed with dismay the controversy over the cancelation of the exhibit of Jewish Art in the Gilded Age of America over the inclusion of pieces by two Jewish artists with ties to the Confederacy, despite the exhibit curator’s plan to highlight these artists’ “complex, contradictory political and religious commitments” (On the Campus, May issue). Frankly, even though these artists’ works represented a very small part of the exhibit, I would have been fascinated to learn more about them and how and why they held the views that they held, especially given the prominent role of so many American Jews in our nation’s progressive causes and civil rights issues. This seems like a missed opportunity for discussion, and yes, even argument, that could lead to a greater understanding of these artists’ perspectives, as well as a chance to learn about Jewish life in pre-20th century America, something that I know almost nothing about.
Maybe not coincidentally, on the day that I read this piece in the PAW, I also read the just-released Anti-Defamation League 2021 Audit Report and accompanying materials detailing the explosion of antisemitic incidents in the U.S., New Jersey, and, sadly, in Princeton. So much of antisemitism involves attributing negative characteristics to Jews, whether based on historically unfounded stereotypes or on the positions taken by the Israeli government. I fear that the cancelation of the exhibit, and even the media coverage thereof, could contribute to antisemitism by creating an unwarranted association between Jews and the Confederacy. I don’t think the University’s stance here is helpful, and it contributes to the unfortunate climate of “choosing sides” without thoughtful discussion and debate.