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As 9-11 Nears, Pro-Palestinian Agitators Shut Down D.C. Museum Ceremony

September 9th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

With Homeland Security edgy about 9-11 disruptions, pro-Palestinian agitators have successfully shut down a planned public ceremony by a Washington, D.C. museum over safety concerns.

The National Building Museum was slated to grant its prestigious Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology during a public ceremony September 14, 2011. The five-person Turner Prize jury unanimously chose Caterpillar Inc. for its global record of innovation within the construction industry. But the company has also been the victim of repeated disruptions by a coalition of anti-Israeli boycott groups, including the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice, and supported by the so-called Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace. The Washington Interfaith Alliance was one of many that posted Internet calls for protests at the museum on September 14.

Caterpillar has been under attack for supplying combat bulldozers to Israeli military engineers. The Illinois-based Caterpillar company also provides construction machines to a gamut of third-world and developing nations for relief and reconstruction, which was the basis for the prize.

The behemoth civil-war era National Building Museum, known for creating the concept of “red tape,” when it connected the long strings of nineteenth-century bureaucratic pension forms with red tape, is considered a national treasure. The seemingly innocuous August 18, 2011 announcement of the engineering award brought a storm of threats of public protest and other disruption that the architecture-based museum staff found overwhelming, according to museum sources. “We made the decision out of concern for the safety of our staff,” stated the source, adding that federal security offices were notified.

“We feel the environment for the 2011 Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Engineering has become politicized,” Building Museum spokesperson Carol Abrams emailed this writer, “and this will divert attention from construction technology, which is the purpose of the prize and central to the Museum’s mission. We choose to remain apolitical, including avoiding any appearance of partisanship. With concern that the public program would be disrupted in light of potential protests and counter-protests, the Museum and Turner have decided not to hold the public ceremony.”

Abrams, added, “The core values of the Museum are to be neutral and nonpartisan. We are neither a policy-making organization nor a political one. We hold dear our mission, which is to explore the building arts and sciences in an unbiased way.”

Caterpillar spokesperson Jim Dugan, reached while traveling, confirmed cancellation of the public ceremony, but that the prize would still be awarded. Dugan emailed this writer, “Caterpillar understands and supports the National Building Museum’s decision to cancel the event. The NBM is an apolitical group that was unfortunately targeted by political activists and organizations seeking to promote a political agenda. We are honored that the prize jury has recognized Caterpillar’s history of innovation in construction technology.”

The Building Museum cancellation over safety concerns is the latest in a string of disruptions staged by pro-Palestinian anti-Israeli agitators who define themselves as the worldwide “Boycott, Disinvestment, and Sanctions” movement, also known as BDS. The movement has increasingly attracted the attention of prosecutors, hate crime defense groups, the police, and terrorism specialists.

Several student BDS agitators were arrested and charged for vociferously disrupting a February 2010 University of California-Irvine campus speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. Jury selection in that prosecution is now underway. During the summer of 2011, an Australian BDS group staged disruptions around a popular Israeli-owned chocolate shop in Sydney. After repeated warnings by the authorities to cease, BDS agitators were arrested at the shop by Sydney police. Several days ago, the Israel Philharmonic was shouted down by a small band of BDS agitators while performing at the revered Proms at Royal Albert Hall. The BBC interrupted its live broadcast on Radio 3 - the first time a Prom had ever been taken off air. In that case, a dismayed multinational audience overwhelmed the protestors, and shouted the BDS group down until police removed them. The same BDS movement staged the abortive Gaza Flotilla in May 2010 which resulted in nine deaths, provoked an international crisis, and triggered the recent collapse of Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations.

The latest BDS disruption at the National Building Museum over the Caterpillar prize has prompted federal security officials to intensify their attention to the groups involved. Those groups have now promised a campaign to force the Building Museum to not only cancel the public ceremony, but also to rescind the award itself.

Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust, and The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust.

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