An artful response to negativism

Whenever Jews come under attack, naturally our first impulse is to fight back. But when cooler heads prevail, the Jewish community often proves highly resourceful in responding to hurtful messages.

Witness the Jewish response to “Justice Matters,” a pro-Palestinian art exhibit currently on display at the Berkeley Art Center. Some of the images in that exhibit appear to condone, even romanticize, violence against Israelis, if not all Jews.

A masked Palestinian with a lit bomb on his torso. An automatic rifle superimposed on a collage extolling Palestinian nationalism. A pair of bloody hands on a globe — an image all too reminiscent of vicious 1930s-era anti-Semitic illustrations.

Indeed, the exhibition also includes works by Jewish artists, and the majority of pieces in “Justice Matters” do not incite or depict violence. Moreover, in a free society, passionate debate over the issues of the day is a good thing. Art should never be censored. For Jews, free speech remains a paramount virtue.

Still, because of those offensive images, no one could have been surprised if some Jewish group had organized noisy protests in front of the Berkeley Art Center, perhaps even demanding equal time for a more pro-Israeli exhibit.

The Jewish community did no such thing.

Instead, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay and Berkeley’s Congregation Beth El worked at lightning speed to put together an alternative art exhibit with a positive message.

It’s already up on the walls of Congregation Beth El in Berkeley.

Called “Coexistence,” the exhibit originated at Jerusalem’s Museum On The Seam and consists of more than 40 works by noted artists from around the world. Each artwork celebrates peaceful coexistence among all people, perhaps the most potent countermessage the Jewish community could offer.

“Coexistence” is a traveling exhibit, having been to scores of cities around the world. Now it’s here and speaking volumes about how most Jews and advocates of peace really feel.

It would be easy for us to urge a boycott of “Justice Matters,” but instead we urge readers to take in both exhibits and judge for themselves which one boasts the more potent moral message.

As long as we live in an open society, these kinds of skirmishes will never end for the Jewish community. But given our collective skill, energy and determination, we will always find ways to counter negative messages directed at us.