The Evanston Public Library has cancelled a scheduled Aug. 11 speech by a Chicago-based Palestinian-American author.

Writer Ali Abunimah had been scheduled to speak about his book “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” that was published earlier this year.

But Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons reportedly ordered the library staffer who had scheduled the presentation to cancel it because no balancing speech from an advocate for Israel had yet been scheduled.

Abunimah, in a post to the website The Electronic Intifada, called the cancellation “a politically motivated and blatant act of censorship.”

Danczak Lyons did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the decision this morning.

But library board member Ben Schapiro said the decision was part of a plan by Danczak Lyons to focus library programming on presenting a series of programs around a single important topic, rather than a more scatter-shot approach used in the past.

He said the library recently spent 11 months presenting a series of programs on African-American history and is planning a similar series on World War I.

“I believe the desire is to do something similar” with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Schapiro said, 
“to try to build it into a broader series of discussions.”

He said Danczak Lyons hasn’t made a formal presentation on the new approach to the library board yet, “but that’s my understanding of what’s being planned.”

In the past the library has frequently scheduled individual presentations by a variety of authors of recently published books.

It also been the setting for events dealing with Mideast issues sponsored by other organizations, including, earlier this year, a discussion of life under Israeli occupation in Gaza and a film about a young man in Paris contemplating a move to Israel.

While library officials have said they hope to reschedule Abunimah’s appearance, no new date has yet been announced.

Coincidentally, the City Council’s Human Services Committee is scheduled to vote at a meeting tonight on a memorandum of understanding between the city and library over issues relating to increased autonomy of the library from city oversight.

Update 4:12 p.m. 8/4/14: Lyons this afternoon posted a statement on the library website saying the “request to reschedule this program was mishandled by the library.”

The statement goes on to say:

I have contacted the author to discuss with him personally whether he will consider rescheduling this program or is only available on August 11. I await a response from him.

Whether this book talk proceeds on August 11th or another date, the Evanston Public Library looks forward to sponsoring this discussion and continuing the conversation beyond one evening. The Evanston Public Library is the perfect place to discuss and illuminate issues that reflect deeply held personal feelings and points of view, along with important issues that reflect world events. 

Update 4:22 p.m. 8/4/14: Abunimah, on his Twitter page, says:

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Fair and Balanced?

    May I suggest that the library remove any book that advocates a postion, theory, or cause due to the audiences assumed inablility to think for themselves. The library owes it's funders a full accounting of what led to this decision.

    1. Censorship and Hurt Feelings

      I don't know anything about the speaker or book so I'm not commenting on that.

      But it sounds like want we have read lately about even colleges keeping speakers/books and even student/teacher discussions let alone lectures free of what would "hurt anyone's feelings."  Many of these forbidden topics have nothing to do with hate speech or anything similar.  They were dealing with issues people want to discuss or present their opinions—in civil discourse.  E.g. Capital Punishment, Euthanasia, Contraception, Race Relation, Welfare, Abortion, Poverty, Income Inequality and on and on.  But someone [including one or few college students] felt offended or as they said "uncomfortable" hearing about.   

      We are getting very close to a society that can't talk.  We had the "I'm O.K., your O.K." generation and the "I'm O.K., your Wrong" generation, and the Politically Correct periods but now the later has morfted into the "Don't Even Say Anything for Fear of Offending" generation.

      With Censorship, esp. a Library or Bookstoe, it is easy to say there is censorship if a book is removed but much more difficult to say if it is never purchased or stocked.  Of course a library is "public" and has to be more careful of censorship than a bookstore.  However from one comment it sounds like one employee invited the speaker where as the library Administration/Board it seems would have to make the decisions in the first place.  I wonder how many Library administrators/Board members or "influential" Evanston residents would have let a William Buckley, Milton Freedman, Eric Cantor or Paul Ryan ever speak at EPL.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen

      In answer to the question posed here, yes.  Evanston's world renowned Rabbi Brant Rosen was to introduce Ali Abunimah at the Evanston Public Library's BOOK discussion scheduled for August 11, 2014.

  2. Censorship Discredits the EPL — and is Unworthy of Evanston

    Below is the email I sent yesterday to the EPL's Director and Board protesting this cancellation. As yet I have received no response. 

    Dear Ms. Lyons:
    I write to express my profound disappointment with your decision to cancel Ali Abunimah's upcoming talk at the Library. Such an act of censorship would be unworthy of a library anywhere, but I am particularly disturbed that such an action is taking place in my home town. I believe our citizens are fiercely devoted to the exchange of ideas and are not cowed by controversy. Evanstonians are intelligent, politically aware and more than capable of assessing points of view that may differ from their own. I have no doubt that, had Mr. Abunimah been allowed to speak, Evanston residents who attended his talk and disagreed with him would have freely voiced their dissenting opinions. All of us in this town are capable of speaking for ourselves. 

    Thus I would hope that my fellow Evanstonians resent any authority — most especially a library — that deems to decide for us just what opinions require a "balanced" response and exactly what that response should be. There are many viewpoints on issues relating to Israel and the rights of Palestinians — not just two. For the library to determine that it needed to "balance" Ali Abunimah with a "pro-Israel" speaker means that you have determined for the public just what "pro-Israel" means. Narrowing the discourse in this way — suggesting that there are two, and only two, points of view on such a complex issue — is precisely the opposite of what a library exists for. 

    Such specious definitions of "balance" are, in any event, merely excuses for yielding to political pressure. A few months from now, the Library is showing a movie about Cesar Chavez. Will you need to "balance" that presentation by including a representative from the California Growers Association? Should you broaden your upcoming talk on "The Help" and the realities of the segregated south by inviting someone from the Ku Klux Klan for "balance?" No doubt you won't, but then let's please retire these disingenuous references to "balance." Anyone seeking viewpoints that differ from Mr. Abunimah would be welcome to peruse the library shelves, where no doubt they would find many books that would fulfill that function.

    Public libraries have an awesome responsibility in our society, all the more so in a world increasingly short on rational and truly unmediated inquiry. Many librarians are fighting heroic and often unheralded battles to ensure that the public can continue to access information, free from censorship exerted by pressure groups or from oversight by government agencies. What you do helps uphold our First Amendment liberties and is utterly essential to our democracy. 

    Please assure me that the Evanston Public Library will continue to oppose censorship and stand against those who would shut out ideas they deem too controversial for public debate. I strongly urge you to overturn your decision to cancel Mr. Abunimah's talk, and invite him back without requiring a balancing act. Please let me know your response.

    Sincerely —
    Toni Gilpin

      1. Evil Man?

        The article you link to barely mentions Ali at all, simply referring to his book. What, exactly, about this article "clearly" proves that Ali is an "evil man"? Basically, what you're saying is that anyone who supports the boycott of Israel (which is, I'll remind you, a nonviolent movement) is inherently "evil." While it's heartening that you oppose censorship even for those you think are "evil," it's disturbing that you smear a person as "evil" without the slightest evidence.

    1. Shame on Evanston Public Library

      As someone who moved to Evanston because of its reputation for fairness, I was appalled at this last-minute censorship. Particularly disturbing was the last-minute nature of the cancellation (done on a Friday just before closing time so commnication wasn't possible, and informing the scholar by email instead of the more courteous phone call),  and the fact that the Library Director made the cancellation without even talking to the co-sponsor, the Evanston peace group–Neighbors for Peace.  Over-riding these concerns, however, is the fact that such a cancellation even happened.  It appears to be unprecedented in Evanston library history, although in my long life, I have heard other library censorship stories. The library is supposed to be a preserver  of free speech so it is only fitting that  the American Library Association look into this egregious effort of stifling  through its Social Responsibility Roundtable.  I and other members of Neighbors for Peace sincerely hope that Director Lyons will rescind her cancellation and accord Mr. Abuminah the free speech platform for which he was originally invited and at the already well publicized day and time of August 11 at 7:00 pm.  They have plenty of time to schedule Zionist speakers–this presentation should stand as they originally contracted!

    2. Abuniman should be heard

      With the cancellation of Abuniman's talk by the EPL, I now want to hear his views.  Before his cancellation never heard of him but had some evolving thoughts about his homeland.  Most often there are two sides to world conflicts.  I appreciate knowing the different views associated with such conflict; and, I don't appreciate what appears to be public censorship of a particular view.  Hopefully, our local University will give Abuniman an opportunity to come and speak to individuals interested in hearing what he has to say…  He may well be worthy of hearing and provide some food for thought.

    3. The Outcry

      And I really wonder if anyone in Evanstin would feel the same way if a Conservative speaker were invited, say Condi Rice or Dr. Carson.  Doubt it.

      I'm sure the protests by Evanstonians would be fierce, akin to the occurrences at Rutgers and Brandeis.

      Easy to standup for the First Amendment when you agree with the speakers ideology.  Just as easy to disregard it against anyone who may not subscribe to a different point if view.  It's happening all across our country.  


  3. Ben Shapiro’s explanation

    Of course this cancellation has NOTHING to do with keeping public attention away from the present slaughter of Palestinians by the Israelis.

    I think Ben also has a deed to a bridge in Brooklyn that he's offering for sale.



  4. re: censorship

    Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself.

    — Potter Stewart, U.S. Supreme Court justice    

  5. No justification for censorship

    There is absolutely no justification for censorship by a library. Even if having a series of focused programs rather than scatter-shot events were a good idea (and it's clearly not at a library serving diverse interests with a wide range of authors), nothing can excuse the cancellation of an event. This decision needs to be reversed immediately. It's an embarrassment to Evanston, and to a very good library.

  6. question re cancelation of talk

    I have to ask if there had been a talk scheduled for a pro-Israeli speaker, would you have also canceled that for lack of balance?  Somehow I kind of doubt it.  Evanstonians are generally sophisticated enough to make up their own minds and question speakers.  

    I was certain that I misunderstood when I heard there was a cancelation of a speaker by the Evanston Library. Thought it must be some other library that believed in censorship. 

    Truly disappointed. 

  7. Censorship should not be tolerated at a PUBLIC library.

    The political censorship of, Ali Abunimah, one of the most gifted and acclaimed intellectuals of his generation should not be tolerated at the Evanston Public Library. If the library will not reverse its decision than the public will be forced to demand the termination of the director by the board of directors. The decision is not motivated by fairness but by an explicit suppression of a political argument. It also has less than subtle traces of racial bias. It is not only a violation of Mr. Abunimah's civil rights but even more offensively a violation of the civil rights of all citizens of Evanston to have access to information and political debate. Shame on Karen Danczak Lyons. Shame on the Evanston Public Library.

  8. Ban the book

    If you really want to get children, or adults for that matter, to read a particular book, just ban it from the library and schools.

  9. Free speech and the City of Evanston
    Anyone remember the Rao’s who spoke at city council, public officials basically passed an ordinance prohibiting them from speaking on the Kendall college tree issue and critizing a public officials during citizens comment. It is posted today outside of the city council chamber. As I recall the incompetent city legal department spent over $30,000 in legal fees fighting the Rao’s over a tree on the alley behind their builidng for a $300 fee they want to collect. While it was not quite stated anywhere I believe the Raos were doing this for religious reasons.
    Anyone looking at the city web site – can see it is being used for PR by the city claiming what a great job Wally and his council members friends are doing, versus informing the public. The city appears more interesting in controling and manipulating public discussion than allowing citizens their free speech.
    Anyone watching council meeting over the years know the mayor gives those who might have favorable opinions of her or the city more time to speak at public comment.
    One of the people involved in this story, when I asked the individual a question about a non related issue to this story, claimed I was misrepresenting facts from a public meeting- so there is alot more here than just free speach but the manipulation of the entire process, by the city and public officials and their friends,

    I would suspect this author and book would have had a very small attendance at the library, at the end of summer, but given the library staff decide to try to cancel it, now many more people may attended.

  10. Give me some that good ole fashioned progressive liberalism

    A few days ago, Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said people come to Evanston because, “it’s a progressive — I don’t want to say liberal — community. It’s not just local politics, but an overall attitude of progressiveness and tolerance.”

    Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said that with two kids who’ve not gone through high school and lived here since they were born, “I think they’ll be back, because of the progressive sensibility here.”

    “There’s a midwestern pragmatism here,” she said, “and people who’ve grown up here will be able to talk to almost anybody in the world because they’ve been grounded in their experiences here.".

    Yep, that good ole fashioned progressive liberalism in Evanston.  Oh wait, Evanston library cancelled a speech by an author because they couldn't schedule a speaker with an opposing viewpoint? I didn't know authors of particular subjects could only speak at Evanston Library as long as someone with an opposing viewpoint speaks as well. I didn't know the Fairness Doctrine was reinstated.

    And to think, the UNELECTED Evanston Library Board slammed Evanston property owners with a 39 percent tax hike.

    Those progressive, they raise taxes and censor particular authors.

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