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Protests Over Gaza Intensify at American Art Museums

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The event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in February was titled “Love Letter to SoMa,” after the San Francisco neighborhood that the contemporary art museum calls home.

But eight of the artists involved in it staged an intervention called “Love Letter to Gaza,” altering their own works, including by spray-painting “Viva Palestine” on one, and unfurling a banner that said “No More Blood Money — Ceasefire Now.” The artists’ demands included calls for the museum to boycott Israeli institutions and “remove all Zionist board members and funders.”

In the aftermath, the museum closed its galleries for a month and its interim chief executive, Sara Fenske Bahat, resigned.

“For me as an individual, the last weeks have been excruciating,” she wrote in her resignation letter. “Not just as a leader, but as a Jewish leader.” She wrote that the “vitriolic and antisemitic backlash directed at me personally” had made remaining intolerable. “I no longer feel safe in our own space, including due to the actions of some of our own employees,” she wrote.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts event was among the most dramatic in a series of demonstrations about the Israel-Hamas war that have rocked the cultural sector in recent months with protests, withdrawals and other calls for boycotts.

In February, security officials temporarily closed the Museum of Modern Art in New York after hundreds of demonstrators occupied its atrium and distributed pamphlets accusing trustees with financial ties to Israeli companies of complicity in the war.

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