A Minor News Story of Little Interest to Anyone

In the scheme of things, this maybe isn’t a big deal. The World Press Photo contest is being held this year in Beirut. Photographers from around the world enter the competition. The show was supposed to run until June 1, but it had to be closed early:

The exhibit, which showcased prizewinning photos from the 2011 World Press Photo contest opened on May 12 and was scheduled to run until the first of June. In a press release issued this week, World Press Photo said that they decided to close the exhibit early after “the presence of prizewinning work by an Israeli photojournalist in the exhibition had sparked protests locally, and the Beirut exhibition organizers felt they could no longer guarantee the safety of the visitors or the exhibit itself, if the pictures remained on display.”
World Press Photo said that they would not accept removing individual photos and decided instead to dismantle and close the entire show. …
World Press Photo managing director Michiel Munneke said Sunday that “the integrity of our exhibition was at stake. Removing any prizewinning photos would come down to censorship, which for us is not acceptable. In this instance, closing the exhibition was the only way we could remain true to our principle of promoting freedom of information.” …
The World Press Photo contest is widely considered the world’s most prestigious photography contest.

So Muslims threatened to bomb the exhibit if the work of an Israeli photographer wasn’t banned, and, to its credit, the World Press Photo people closed down the exhibit rather than yield to the Muslims’ demands.
That is good, as far as it goes. But our first choice, obviously, isn’t for such exhibits to be shuttered for fear of explosives. If Islam is finally reformed, perhaps the day will eventually come when Muslims no longer threaten to blow up those with whom they disagree.
In the meantime, let’s at least recognize the work of the Israeli photographer who was the subject of this threat, Amit Sha’al. The photos that were honored by the World Press Photo exhibit were interesting, and not visibly political. What Sha’al did was to incorporate a photograph taken decades ago into his own contemporary photo. The effect is both aesthetically pleasing and historically interesting. Like this one, for example. The caption reads:

The Aaronsohn family home, in Zikhron Ya’aqov, near Haifa, in 1949 and 2010. The Aaronsohns were at the heart of Nili, an underground network that assisted Britain in its fight against the Ottoman Empire in Palestine, during the First World War.

Sha’al’s photos are consistently interesting and not, in any obvious way, political. Yet Muslims demanded that they not be shown. Why? The most logical explanation I can come up with is that they document the fact that Jews have lived in Israel for a long time, contrary to Palestinian propaganda. But I really don’t think that is the key point. Sha’al is a Jew, and that is enough, in the Middle East as, increasingly in Europe, to justify banning his work.


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