Open Letter to Newton Mayor Fuller

Below is an open letter from CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) CEO Jeremy Burton to Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller regarding a May exhibit at the Newton Free Library, The Ongoing & Relentless Nakba.   

We encourage Newton residents to elevate the following asks in their own communications and advocacy as well: 

  • We ask that Mayor Fuller and the Newton Free Library director take responsibility for the hurtful decision of choosing this exhibit especially now and make clear to the community that they will make every effort to improve the process in the future 
  • We also ask that Mayor Fuller and the library director honor the requests they have received to add other exhibits and educational materials that provide a more well-rounded picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history 
  • We further ask Mayor Fuller and the library to minimize further harm and to not “celebrate” this exhibit  
  • Finally, we ask Mayor Fuller and the city to reaffirm their commitment to combating antisemitism as defined by the IHRA working definition and make clear that the hosting of the exhibit does not indicate in any way a change in the city’s position of support for the IHRA working definition  

May 7, 2024 

Dear Mayor Fuller, 

Thank you for reaching out to each of us, along with several rabbis and Jewish community leaders, last week. We understand that you have met with other concerned Newton residents and members of the Jewish and Israeli communities.  

We appreciate that, when informed of the plans for the Newton Free Library to host a photography display this month entitled, The Ongoing & Relentless Nakba, you “immediately had deep concerns” for the impact on the community and for your stated belief that this exhibit will be “quite hurtful and divisive.” We share your commitment to protecting free expression, even as we may disagree about the obligation of a public institution to give voice to every expression. We also appreciate the steps that you have taken, along with library director Jill Mercurio, based on the feedback from these conversations, to mitigate the hurtful programming by providing a series of other arts and educational programs during the period in which this display would be exhibited. 

Still, we are compelled to share our thoughts regarding the unproductive nature of this exhibit, and how this could have been handled with greater care for the mission of the library, the safety and well-being of the Jewish community, and the social fabric of Newton.  

  • We believe that this exhibit fails to advance the interests of the city of Newton.  These interests include fostering productive community conversations and providing quality resources to engage in learning about Israelis, Palestinians, and the ongoing conflict.  
  • We value the importance of teaching and promoting the shared humanity of Israelis and Palestinians, illuminating multiple narratives, and encouraging critical thinking and dialogue – all of which could be advanced through civic and educational organizations like the Newton Free Library. 

Unfortunately, the exhibit does not accomplish any of these. 

Instead, this is a political act by an activist who – through the title of the exhibit, the exhibit description on the Library site, and through his own site – makes clear that he has an agenda, and this agenda is the delegitimization of the state of the Jewish people. The title employs pejorative terminology designed to create tension and push people into ideological opposition of one another. The exhibit description presents numbers and narratives about the events of 1948 that are designed to place Jews and the nascent state of Israel in the worst possible light and delegitimize the Jewish State while failing to illuminate the complexities and nuances of that time of war. The artist’s website goes even further, and even seems to anticipate the controversy that he will ignite by displaying his work in a city with “a sizeable number of supporters of the Israeli government” (itself a flattening of Jewish American attachment to the State of Israel which is, for many – if not most of us – distinct from support for any particular government). 

In short, this exhibit, by intent, seeks to discourage discourse, polarize people, and diminish rather than illuminate – understanding for one of the most intractable and painful conflicts on earth.   

This would be objectionable at any time, and the fact that the selection committee chose the exhibit a year ago does not allay our concerns. However, the fact that the library chose this month of May, which contains Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), and the fact that we are still in the midst of a devastating and complicated war, makes this decision offensive to us and to many Jewish residents of Newton.  

It is hard to see how the library sees this as a fulfillment of its mission to serve its community and bring people together.  

What all our communities – in Newton and across the region – need and deserve at this time are strong leadership voices that will articulate these values and truths without hesitation.  We need leaders who will defend free expression while also calling out divisive and polarizing efforts with equal clarity and strength.   

We are asking you, Madame Mayor, to be this leader, for your Jewish residents and for all your residents.  We ask that you and the library director take responsibility for this hurtful decision and make clear to the community that, while you will not at this point censor the art and cancel the exhibit, you will make every effort to improve the process in the future. We also ask that you honor the requests you have received to add other exhibits and educational materials that provide a more well-rounded picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history. We further encourage you and the library to minimize further harm and to not “celebrate” this exhibit. 

We also want to note that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism – already formally embraced by the City of Newton – offers examples of its manifestations including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”  Given that many of us are interpreting this incident as an example of the ways in which an eliminationist agenda targeting the State of Israel is being normalized in our civic spaces, we ask that you and the city reaffirm your commitment to and make clear that the hosting of this exhibit does not indicate in any way a change in the city’s position of support for the use of the IHRA working definition.  

We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that the Jewish community of Newton is safe and can continue to thrive in your city.  


Jeremy Burton and Marc Baker