Brooklyn Museum Is Complicit in Violence Against Protesters

The Brooklyn Museum has seen its share of artist-driven protests over the last few years, from the action against This Place (the whitewashing 2016 photography show about Israel/Palestine) to the mobilizations at the museum during the George Floyd movement, and last month’s pro-Palestine assembly. The museum is a prominent institution within the art world and claims itself as a “people’s museum,” open to dialogue with the broader community. It even has a land acknowledgment on its facade that partly reads “We are committed to addressing exclusions and erasures of Indigenous peoples, and confronting the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism in the Museum’s work.” 

All the more reason to condemn the museum’s leadership’s actions on May 31 and since then. We went to the museum in response to its silence regarding a statement made by its own employees on November 12 of last year. A call to divest from the genocide was issued in advance of a planned Arts and Culture Assembly. The decision to call in armed police almost immediately was unprecedented. No museum director in living memory has permitted the mass arrest of members of the arts community engaged in a non-violent assembly. 

Following the brutal intervention by members of the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) riot squad, museum officials blatantly lied to the press, insisting that they had not called in the police. In fact, several of us witnessed the call being made by a floor security captain, and, when officers arrived, some of our members witnessed another official signing the order to remove protestors. Armed police do not suddenly materialize inside a museum and proceed to make arrests unless they are invited to do so. To claim otherwise is not only dishonest, it openly invites ridicule.

Even worse, we believe that museum officials were responsible for spreading the slander that the protests were antisemitic and violent in nature, as was the independent targeting of homes belonging to the director and other board members. After publishing a vile report on the latter incidents, which suggested that they were targeted because they were Jewish, The New York Times was forced to retract the allegation by pointing out that only Anne Pasternak is Jewish. The Times offered zero evidence to support the insinuation that she was targeted because of her background. Nonetheless, elected officials, including Mayor Eric Adams, Senator Chuck Schumer, and President Joe Biden all jumped into action to condemn the unproven antisemitism, and we have heard that the NYPD has launched a hate crime investigation on the basis of this false allegation.

No one who has watched the growing weaponization of antisemitism, both to distract attention from Israel’s crimes and to victimize those calling attention to them, should be surprised. We have no expectations of elected officials, who, true to form, have shamelessly conflated anti-Zionism with antisemitism over the course of the last nine months. After all, they are the same people who are still authorizing weapons shipments to the Israeli war machine, long after the case for a genocide has been persuasively made. No one can doubt they will continue to be loyal servants of US imperialism abroad and colonial repression at home

Did anyone expect better from leaders of educational and cultural institutions? And more specifically from the art world, where no major institution has ever broken the deafening silence about the oppression of Palestinians? Maybe some imagined that a full-blown genocide would make a difference, but those assumptions have surely been shattered as one institutional leader after another has caved in to pressure from Zionist trustees, donors, collectors, and others even more belligerent in their defense of Israel. Calling everything antisemitism all the time, without a shred of evidence, is their only buffer from the truth of the slaughter in Gaza. In so doing, they have only added to their complicity in the crimes against humanity. Due to the dishonesty of its leadership, the Brooklyn Museum now seems to have gone out of its way to invite this accusation.

We refuse to be distracted by these tactics, while the bombs are falling and the tanks are rolling into Rafah, and while settlers are running rampage all over the West Bank. Our solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation is unconditional. We stand with the resistance and the right of colonized people to get free by any means necessary.

We end with this declaration. On May 31, communities in New York City came to the museum to demand divestment from genocide in Gaza, and Pasternak is being held responsible for calling the riot cops who brutalized them both inside and outside of the museum. We will not stop or rest until the Brooklyn Museum (1) issues a statement of apology both for the use of force and for lying about calling in the police, (2) drops all charges, including those associated with tagging the director’s home, (3) accepts the demands brought to the museum’s doorsteps, and (4) returns the confiscated protest art pieces (which have now been added to the list of stolen items in the museum’s collection).

Editor’s Note, 6/23/2024, 4pm EDT: The Brooklyn Museum and Director Anne Pasternak have declined to comment on the allegations in this article. In a previous statement to Hyperallergic on June 5, a spokesperson for the museum acknowledged that “the police brutality that took place here on Friday is devastating” but denied that the museum called in the police, adding that the building is city property.

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