The Society of Children’s Bookmakers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) executive director announced this week that she will retire at the end of this year as the group weathers a controversy over the sudden resignation of its diversity officer, a black Jewish woman.
Executive Director Lin Oliver told faculty for the society’s summer conference in a July 19 email that she will retire this year, according to Publisher’s Weekly.
Her announcement comes as the professional group, which has 22,000 members globally, grapples with the resignation of its chief equity and inclusion officer April Powers, who was attacked and sent death threats after she posted a statement of solidarity with Jewish people last month.
Powers, who is black and Jewish, resigned on June 27, shortly after SCBWI posted the statement to its website and Facebook on June 10.
In its statement, the SCBWI said it “unequivocally recognizes” that the world’s Jewish people “have the right to life, safety, and freedom from scapegoating and fear.”
“No person should be at risk because of their heritage, religion, disability, or whom they love,” the SCBWI said, adding that over the last several years, anti-Semitism has been “on the rise globally.”
“Because antisemitism is one of the oldest forms of hatred, it has its own name,” the group said. “It is the example from which many forms of racism and violence are perpetrated. As writers, illustrators, and translators of children’s literature, we are responsible for promoting equity and humanizing people in our work-all children and all families.”
“Silence is often mistaken for acceptance and results in the perpetration of more hatred and violence against different types of people. As proof, it saddens us that for the fourth time this year we are compelled to invite you to join us in not looking away and in speaking out against all forms of hate, including antisemitism,” the statement concluded.
The statement mentioned “all forms of hate.” It did not specifically mention Israel, Palestinians, Muslims, or conflict between any groups.
Nevertheless, it was met with criticism from authors including Palestinian-American writer Razan Abdin-Adnani, a member of the SCBWI, who attacked Powers as “dismissive and culturally insensitive.”
If I may… just one more tweet before I step away for a bit. Here's their DEI officer, April Powers, talking about her organizational goals for @scbwi: https://t.co/BsevhEu4yK & below is April Power stating that she is "Pro-Israel" on an official SCBWI forum. Coincidence? … pic.twitter.com/0AWmRE1UPW
— Razan A-A 🇵🇸 (@razanabnani) June 22, 2021
“You can imagine my dismay when they released a powerful statement in support of the Jewish community,” Abdin-Adnani tweeted.
Abdin-Adnani said that while she does not disagree with this statement “in the slightest bit,” she was disappointed with Powers’ response to her concerns. The Palestinian author said she had inquired about potential statements of solidarity with Palestinians and Muslims as well, to which Powers responded, “if we see a surge against Muslims globally as we have w/ other groups, expect us to speak out.”
Following Abdin-Adnani’s criticism, Powers was subjected to a torrent of abuse online that reportedly included death threats and doxxing.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s credible or not, the feeling that you have when someone threatens your life and that of your family online and publicly is a terrorist act,” Powers told Newsweek.
Powers resigned from the SCBWI and issued a statement apologizing for neglecting to address “the rise in Islamophobia,” saying she “deeply regrets” that omission.
“As someone who is vehemently against Islamophobia and hate speech of any kind, I understand that intention is not impact and I am sorry,” she said.
Powers later clarified that the SCBWI had not fired her or asked her to resign. She also thanked supporters during a “terrifying moment for me and my family.”
The SCBWI also issued an apology in late June to Abdin-Adnani, as well as the group’s Palestinian and Muslim members.
“I would like to apologize to everyone in the Palestinian community who felt unrepresented, silenced, or marginalized,” Oliver said in her apology on behalf of the SCBWI. “SCBWI acknowledges the pain our actions have caused to our Muslim and Palestinian members and hope that we can heal from this moment.”
Oliver apologized specifically to Abdin-Adnani and said the writer has been unblocked from the organization’s feed. Abdin-Adnani did not accept the apology, but instead urged a boycott of SCBWI and slammed Oliver for her nearly $200,000 salary.
The SCBWI did not respond to a request for comment.
Abdin-Adnani has a history of replying to Twitter threads with comments criticizing Jews, including remarks like “I hear Germany & Poland are quite nice these days.” Last month, she responded in agreement with a Twitter user who said, “the Zionists need to go back to Europe and Brooklyn.”
The controversy even caught the attention of actress Debra Messing, who is Jewish and spoke up to defend Powers, saying she “must be given her job back.”
“Condemning hate against Jews is NOT Islamophobic NOR Anti- Palestinian,” Messing tweeted. “If you think it is, you have a prejudice against Jews.”
— Debra Messing✍🏻 (@DebraMessing) June 29, 2021
After Messing weighed in, Abdin-Adnani cried harassment and urged her followers to report Messing’s Twitter thread for “targeted harassment.”
“The right-wing mob continues to harass me,” she tweeted.
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