Anti-Zionist Protesters Crash Event at NYC’s Jewish Museum

Artist Zoya Cherkassky can be heard saying “fuck you” after the second round of activists disrupt the talk. (video Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)

A group of 17 anti-Zionist protesters disrupted an artist talk at the Upper East Side’s Jewish Museum last night, February 12. The conversation featured Director James S. Snyder and Israeli artist Zoya Cherkassky, whose current exhibition 7 October 2023 depicts the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack last fall. In four waves, the majority-Jewish activists rose from their seats at the sold-out event and recited from a script that derided Cherkassky’s show as “imperial propaganda” that serves to “manufacture consent for genocide,” among other claims. 

“As cultural workers, as anti-Zionist Jews of conscience, as New York City residents, we implore you to confront the reality,” a group of organizers began to chant before a member of the museum’s security team attempted to snatch the script away, ripping the paper.

The activists were quickly removed by security staff and one onsite police officer, and the protesters’ speeches were stifled with boos and shouts of “shut up” from the crowd. Cherkassky yelled “fuck you” from the stage and an audience member attempted to grab the script from a protester’s hand; another screamed “antisemite.” A different attendee yelled “long live Israel” in Hebrew, eliciting a round of applause. The activists intended to distribute leaflets, but were only able to hand out a few given the rapid security response.

The Jewish Museum and Cherkassky have not responded to Hyperallergic‘s immediate requests for comment.

Cherkassky’s 14-painting show 7 October 2023, which went on view in December and will remain in the museum’s permanent collection hall through March, is void of a single depiction of Palestinians. The exhibition’s introductory and wall texts make no mention of Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, which has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians after Hamas’s attack in which approximately 695 Israeli civilians were killed.

As the activists noted in their speeches, Israel bombed the Rafah refugee camp the night before the talk, killing at least 67 people in a move that drew international backlash.

“To me, it’s a pro-war show,” writer and former Jewish Museum staff member Max Levin, who was present at the talk and said that he resigned in January in protest of the exhibition, told Hyperallergic. “It’s trying to stir up revenge and retaliation.” 

Cherkassky’s series features graphic scenes, some presented in the style of famous art historical works, including one image that mimics Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937), the Franco-era artwork that shows the aftermath of a bombing campaign in Spain’s Basque region.

The former worker called the show’s employment of art history “appalling.” 

“The use of ‘Guernica,’ which is an anti-war painting that shows the devastation of aerial bombardment — the aerial bombardment is happening in Gaza,” he said.

Museum security removes protesters as an audience member attempts to remove the script from an activist’s hand. (video courtesy Max Levin)

Cherkasshy and Snyder continued the hour-long talk despite the four disruptions, discussing the artist’s background and artistic process. After the second round of activists were removed from the small auditorium, the director noted that there were now six empty seats in the packed lecture hall and remarked, “Anyone else?” The comment roused laughter from the crowd.

 One attendee, a 32-year-old museum worker living in Bedstuy who asked to stay anonymous, told Hyperallergic that they found the crowd’s response “chilling.” 

“I don’t have much hope for these people, but I do hope that they have Palestine on their minds tonight,” they said. “And I hope that it haunts them.”

The protesters’ flyers featured a satirical cartoon of an artist painting a missile, an artwork described as a “response to the propaganda now on display at the Jewish Museum.” A bullet-point list of Israel’s attacks on Palestinians was printed on the back of the document and included the current tally of people who have been killed and displaced in Gaza.

“[The Jewish Museum’s] curatorial choices aim to legitimize Zionist murder, ethnic cleansing, and the destruction of Palestinian society and infrastructure,” read a text on the leaflet.

Jewish Museum security removed protesters from a talk on February 12. (screenshots Hyperallergic via video courtesy Max Levin)
The beginning of the talk between James S. Snyder and Zoya Cherkassky, before the disruptions. (photo Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)
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The first round of activists (photo Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)

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