A statement condemning anti-Semitism, which was released by a children’s book non-profit, triggered a conflict that ultimately cost its inclusivity officer her job. Now some say the organization caved in to Jew-hating bigots.
The politically charged drama unfolded in recent weeks after the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) posted a basic statement against anti-Semitism. Now the organization, which links together all sorts of professionals involved in children’s literature, is being accused of catering to racist anti-Semetic online mobs.
Powers was hired by the SCBWI earlier in June to work as its chief equity & inclusion officer, the first person to hold the newly created position. She was bringing to the job 15 years of experience “in diversity, equity, inclusion [and] belonging, training, recruiting, community outreach and leadership,” the organization said. Powers is also a black Jewish woman.
After a week in office, the SCBWI posted a short statement in support of Jewish people and condemning the rise of anti-Semitism, “one of the oldest forms of hatred” which serves as an example “from which many forms of racism and violence are perpetrated.”
As writers, illustrators, and translators of children’s literature, we are responsible for promoting equity and humanizing people in our work – all children and all families.
The sentiment itself was hardly disputable, but one SCBWI member took issue with what she called the “selective solidarity” and wondered if the same support should be expected by Muslims, and particularly Palestinians.
Writer Razan Abdin-Adnani is of Palestinian descent and comes from a family that was displaced from their homeland during the creation of Israel in the late 1940s, she said. That made it a personally painful issue for her, particularly since the drama unfolded just after the latest flare-up of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the slaughter of a Pakistani-Canadian family in Ontario province.
Their DEI officer April Powers responded with a comment that was both dismissive and culturally insensitive. It stated that *IF* the organization saw an uptick in violence against Arabs and/or Muslims in a way that it had with other groups, it would make a similar statement…
— Razan Abdin-Adnani (she/her) 🇵🇸 (@razanabnani) June 22, 2021
Powers’ response to Abdin-Adnani’s comment on the statement was “dismissive and culturally insensitive,” the writer said – and the exchange ended with Power blocking her comments. Eventually the entire Twitter thread was apparently taken down and the original statement reposted.
The interpersonal conflict escalated further, even leading the Palestinian writer to be blocked by the SCBWI account. What was supposed to be a benign apolitical forum for creators of kids books turned into a battlefield on the decades-old Middle Eastern conflict.
The debate became as toxic as one might expect, with accusations of bigotry, bad faith criticisms and even death threats reportedly being slung by supporters of both sides.
FYI: This WILD weaponization of antisemitism that’s being used by the #SCBWI brigade (all of whom *just happen* to be racist & Islamophobic AF) is a typical tactic of right-wing Pro-Israel groups such as the self proclaimed “radically pro kid” non-profit org that is @scbwi. 🇵🇸
— Razan Abdin-Adnani (she/her) 🇵🇸 (@razanabnani) June 30, 2021
The SCBWI leadership intervened on Monday. Lin Oliver, the executive director of the organization, published a statement of apology “to everyone in the Palestinian community who felt unrepresented, silenced, or marginalized,” and to Abdin-Adnani personally “for making her feel unseen and unheard by blocking her.”
Powers too apologized for mishandling the situation. “I neglected to address the rise in Islamophobia, and deeply regret that omission. As someone who is vehemently against Islamophobia and hate speech of any kind, I understand that intention is not impact and I am so sorry,” she said.
On her Facebook page she also stated that the decision to resign was not forced on her and thanked those who supported her “in this terrifying moment for me and my family.”
“There are good, kind people who work and volunteer [at the SCBWI], many of whom are from marginalized, minority, or underrepresented backgrounds (including Jewish) themselves – who have also been harassed and trolled relentlessly. While there is certainly more to this story, particularly horrific unmasked anti-Semitism outside of the SCBWI, I cannot comment further at this time,” she said.
With Powers’ firing now getting attention from social media heavyweights like Messing and national media outlets, the story will likely spread on, fueling preferred biases and online fury.
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