Montreal’s Jewish Public Library, which recently decided to stop displaying the works of Quebec author Elise Gravel because of social-media posts she has made about the Israel-Hamas war, is now re-evaluating the move after it stirred controversy throughout the province.
Ms. Gravel is a celebrated writer and illustrator of children’s books. The JPL, an independent non-profit, said in a statement provided to The Canadian Jewish News last week that although it wasn’t removing the books from its collection entirely, it had moved them out of public view. It said this would ensure that the works “remain accessible through our catalogue, while also acknowledging the sensitivities surrounding the author’s social media posts.”
“The JPL is committed to fostering critical thought and combating antisemitism and discrimination of any kind,” the statement added.
The library’s executive director, Alain Dancyger, said Monday that the decision to remove Ms. Gravel’s books was made before he took over his position on Jan. 15. He declined to explain the move and said the library would clarify its position soon.
In the meantime, Mr. Dancyger said, Ms. Gravel’s books remain accessible to anyone who asks for them. When a Globe and Mail reporter asked, a library staff member reached behind a counter and produced a dozen illustrated volumes with titles such as Une patate à vélo, The Spider and I Want a Monster.
The social-media posts in question have appeared on Ms. Gravel’s Instagram feed over the past few months. They denounce Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip – assaults that began in October after Hamas fighters killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel. The subsequent Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, including more than 12,000 children, according to local authorities.
“Stop bombing children,” says a typical post of Ms. Gravel’s from Nov. 2. “It’s not antisemitic to denounce Israel’s extreme violence and manipulation tactics,” says another from Dec. 10.
On Thursday, Quebec’s National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion saying it is “concerned about recent episodes of censorship targeting Quebec children’s books” and “affirms its support for Quebec writers,” including Ms. Gravel.
But Jewish groups have alleged Ms. Gravel is promoting hatred. On Feb. 6, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which represents Jewish federations across Canada, accused her of engaging in “antisemitism and conspiracy theories.”
CIJA cited a particular one of Ms. Gravel’s social-media posts, in which she wrote, “They are convinced that we are okay with their idea to exterminate the Palestinians, like vermin. Even children, even newborns.”
“They counted on us believing their racism against Arabs and Muslims,” Ms. Gravel added.
In its own social-media post, CIJA asked, “Who is the ‘they’ she refers to?”
In a subsequent post, Ms. Gravel clarified that she meant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies.
Last week, Ms. Gravel said in another post that her statements “are not antisemitic,” but are rather critical of “the Israeli government, their political agenda and their extreme violence.”
Fabienne Presentey, a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, said Ms. Gravel’s posts, and criticisms of Israel’s actions more generally, are not antisemitic. Ms. Presentey organized a protest in front of the library on Sunday to denounce what she called “censorship” of Ms. Gravel’s books. She said about 50 people attended.
“During Nazism, they burned our books, so the idea of banning books for us is not a trivial gesture,” she said. “It shows us to what extent freedom of expression in a democracy is very fragile.”
Ms. Gravel declined to comment further on Monday.
With a report from the Associated Press