ARPCF Condemns the Removal of Palestinian Poem by Toronto Public Library

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2024-04-22-TPLMontreal, Apr 22, 2024— The Anti-Racism Program of the CJPME Foundation (ARPCF) condemns the recent decision by the Toronto Public Library (TPL) to remove the poem "If I Must Die" by Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer from a display on the "Israel-Palestine Conflict" at its Main Street Library location. This action followed complaints from pro-Israel and Zionist advocacy organization B’nai Brith Canada, which criticized the display as biased and falsely accused the poem of glorifying “martyrdom.” ARPCF is deeply disappointed by the TPL’s decision to suppress important Palestinian cultural voices.

The poem "If I Must Die" is by Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian writer, poet, and academic in Gaza who was killed by an Israeli airstrike on December 7, 2023. Days before his death, he reshared the poem on his social media; it was originally written in 2011. The piece, which reflects on themes of life, death, and legacy under the Israeli occupation and genocide in Gaza, gained significant attention following the murder of its author by Israeli forces. "The removal of this poem and the alteration of the display under the pretext of ensuring 'balance' are indicative of a broader pattern of suppressing Palestinian voices under the guise of avoiding controversy or discomfort," stated Jamila Ewais, a researcher for the ARPCF. "Art and literature are fundamental to the human experience, and to documenting and understanding resistance and resilience under colonialism. Denying these expressions is a form of cultural erasure and anti-Palestinian racism."

The TPL’s decision to remove these materials, particularly the poem—a form of artistic expression that reflects the profound distress and resistance within the Palestinian context—is a severe setback for free expression in support of human rights in Canada. The ARPCF is concerned that the library has capitulated to pressures from B'nai Brith, which regards such expressions of Palestinian struggle as intolerable and inappropriate, rendering Palestinians unworthy of a dignified life or death.  According to the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA), “excluding or pressuring others to exclude Palestinian perspectives, Palestinians and their allies” is a key manifestation of anti-Palestinian racism.

The ARPCF calls on the TPL to restore the removed content immediately, and to commit to a policy that genuinely respects and reflects decolonial values, including by representing voices that have been silent by Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine and in Canada. The ARPCF believes that this incident underscores the ongoing need for advocacy against anti-Palestinian racism, to ensure that Palestinian stories and voices are not silenced but are instead recognized as legitimate and vital contributions to the human experience.


About the ARPCF – The mandate of the Anti-Racism Program of the CJPME Foundation (ARPCF) is to create public awareness about racism in Canada.  This mandate falls in line with the Foundation’s broader purpose of monitoring and combating manifestations of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination by increasing public awareness of such biases.

For more information, please contact Jamila Ewais, 514-389-8668
ARPCF, [email protected]

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