UA Exhibit Looks Back at When Tucson Public Schools Banned Middle East Studies

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Turkey - COURTESY OF PHOTOSPIN
  • Courtesy of Photospin
  • Turkey
Members of the UA's Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace want to bring back some attention to when Tucson Unified School District and other educational entities banned Middle East Studies from several schools.

In 1983, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, Tucson Unified School District, and UA administrators "collaborated to discredit the Near Eastern Center (now renamed the Center for Middle Eastern Studies). The vicious campaign of censorship and intimidation climaxed in 1983 with the banning of Middle East outreach materials including resource books, literature, maps and films," the groups say.

The exhibit, which debuted Sept. 28 during Banned Books Week, features photographs and archival materials from that time. The groups sponsoring it hope to help fight censorship at schools and elsewhere.

Here's the background (from the article "The Middle East Studies Ban" by Gabriel Schivone for Tucson Weekly):
In 1983, (U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva) sat on the Tucson Unified School District board, which in effect sanctioned the termination of a Middle East-studies outreach program (and the banning of its books), designed for district teachers by the University of Arizona's Near Eastern Center, due to allegations of "anti-Israel, pro-Arab" bias.

In a report to the district, the TUSD compliance officer, Sylvia Campoy, recommended the program's elimination and book-banning. In remarks published by the Arizona Daily Star on Sept. 16, 1983, Campoy justified the move by saying that "the Israeli government apparently was not contacted for materials." Since the Near Eastern Center failed to consult a foreign government, the program therefore promoted a "significant bias ... of a decisively anti-Israel and pro-Arab character," in the words of Campoy's report.

The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, which led the local campaign against the program, was supported nationally by the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee. The federation pointed to a so-called conspiracy of "Arabists" allegedly in control of U.S.-based oil companies Mobil and Exxon, accused of influencing Middle East centers on university campuses across the country.

"I call it the buying of America," said TUSD board member Eva Bacal at the Oct. 18, 1983, board meeting.

The program materials that TUSD barred from district classrooms included a series of books, bibliographies, pamphlets, resource guides and teacher handbooks covering Middle East history and cultures, as well as maps, videos and a novel entitled My Enemy, My Brother.

One area of materials that critics found among the most objectionable were maps of the Middle East used in TUSD classrooms, and in a history course for TUSD teachers. "Israel was notably absent" on one map, wrote Carol Karsch in a 1985 report submitted to a U.S. Congressional committee on behalf of the Jewish Federation. A TUSD parent told the school board in October 1983 that in class, her son "was shown a map that eliminated the presence of Israel in the Middle East."
You can find the exhibit at the UA's Student Union Gallery "Shadow Box," on the third floor of the Grand Ballroom, 1303 E. University Blvd. It is free, but you are welcomed to give some donations. For more info, check out the event's Facebook

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