Ottawa art exhibit slammed for glorifying terror

Ottawa City Hall

Canada’s Israeli embassy and Ottawa’s Jewish Federation say that an art exhibit on display at Ottawa City Hall’s Karsh-Masson Art Gallery glorifies Palestinian terrorism and have urged the city to review its policy on how exhibits are approved.

The exhibit, Invisible by Palestinian-born, Toronto-based artist Rehab Nazzal, includes photographs of some of the most notorious Palestinian terrorists, including Abu Iyad, who was responsible for the 1972 Munich Games massacre, and Khalid Nazzal, the artist’s brother-in-law, who was the mastermind behind the Ma’alot school massacre that killed 22 children and three adults 40 years ago.

Eitan Weiss, spokesperson and head of public diplomacy for the Israeli Embassy in Canada, said the embassy was moved to contact Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson when it learned that the city was “endorsing it, and not only that, but paying for it. They are funding a lot of this with taxpayers’ money.”

Artists are paid about $1,800 to have their work displayed at the gallery.

“The artist is portraying these people as innocent Palestinians, authors, writers, cartoonists, politicians who were assassinated by Israel,” Weiss said. “We’re talking about terrorists with blood on their hands.”

Jewish Federation of Ottawa president and CEO Andrea Freedman said “it’s a hurtful exhibit in the fact that it glorifies Palestinian terrorists, so it’s highly problematic that it is funded by taxpayers’ dollars and it has no place in City Hall.”

She said federation has called on the city to shut down the exhibit, which is scheduled to run until June 22.

In an email statement to The CJN, deputy city manager Steve Kanellakos explained that the exhibit is in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that it won’t be taken down prematurely.

All exhibits at the gallery are selected by an independent jury and the themes of each exhibit do not represent the views of the City of Ottawa, he said.

“To exhibit a work of art is not to endorse the work or the vision, ideas, and opinions of the artist. It is to uphold the right of all to experience diverse visions and views.”

However, following meetings with the federation and Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, the mayor agreed to review the policy governing the selection process of the gallery’s artwork, which has been in place since 1993. 

Nazzal, who will speak on Ottawa City Hall property on June 1 about her exhibit, told the Ottawa Citizen last week that the decision by the city to review the policy has her “concerned about the future of artists showing work of significance.”

Although Freedman said she’s disappointed the exhibit remains open, “the main thing from our perspective is that the city… will be reviewing and revising their policies so that in the future, no other community will have to experience this.”

Weiss said the purpose of the meeting between the ambassador and the mayor was not to shut down the exhibit.

“We understand their constraints, because at the end of the day, they are aware of the fact that this is a problematic exhibition, and they claim that their hands are tied due to legal constraints in terms of taking it down,” he said.

“We’re just trying to expose reality and expose the truth and use this moment as a teaching moment and tell the Canadian audience that if you want to know why Israelis and Palestinians haven’t reached a peace agreement, this is the reason why. Palestinians enshrine terrorists, they commemorate and glorify them, and this is something that is unacceptable. Imagine what people would have said if the pictures of the 9/11 terrorists would have been there,” Weiss said.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to showcase the Palestinian propaganda and how they tend to twist the reality and change the truth to suit their narrative, which is completely false in this case. This is our objective in this.”