Bookstore Controversy Erupts Over Gaza War

Dave Schechter
7 min readJan 31, 2024

Charis Books & More, the oldest independent feminist bookstore in the South, is the target of criticism by women who say the Atlanta institution has rebuffed their concerns about its pro-Palestine position and programming.

The women, most but not all Jewish, also are dissatisfied with the response from Agnes Scott College to appeals that Charis — the college’s bookstore partner — demonstrate a more even-handed position toward Israel.

Charis Books & More opened in November 1974 on Moreland Avenue, in Atlanta’s Little Five Points district, and moved in 2019 to a house in Decatur owned by Agnes Scott College. The name Charis (pronounced KA-riss), comes from a Greek word for “grace, kindness, and life” and also translates as “gift.”

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According to the store’s website, Charis Books and Charis Circle, its nonprofit programming arm, “provide the only local, dedicated, feminist gathering space, open 7 days a week, and program more than 270 events a year dedicated to encouraging the expression of diverse and marginalized voices, working for social justice, and fostering sustainable feminist communities.”

Charis has been open about its pro-Palestine stance. A Nov. 9 Instagram post read: “As booksellers and as people, Charis stands with Palestine and joins the demand for an immediate ceasefire, cutting all military support to Israel, and lifting the siege on Gaza.” The comment section ran the gamut from impassioned support to outrage and denunciation.

Programming, particularly a Dec. 9 event, is at the root of the controversy.

A participant’s online promotion read: “A group of parents and educators will offer stories and maps to guide a conversation for kids about Palestine, colonization, and liberation and how kids and families can take action in their own communities. Geared toward ages 6–12 but all ages are welcome.” A graphic advertising “Let’s Talk About Palestine! An Interactive Workshop For Kids and Their Families” included the logos of Charis Books and the Charis Circle.

Notes taken by women who attended the event were shared with the AJT. According to one notetaker, after reading from a book titled, “Baba, What Does My Name Mean? A Journey to Palestine,” a speaker displayed a map and told the children, “You may hear some people calling Palestine, Israel.”

That speaker told the children that on Oct. 7 people from Gaza: “broke down the wall, they killed mostly soldiers Israeli and some Israelis coming out of a music festival . . . They also kidnapped 220 Israelis,” according to the notes.

[Israeli authorities report that on Oct. 7, 1,200 people were murdered (including 360 at the Supernova music festival) and that 240 (Israelis and foreign nationals) were kidnapped. As of this writing, 136 remain hostages in Gaza, though some have been confirmed as dead.]

A second speaker likened Palestinians “chased out of their homes” 75 years ago to European settlers who forced the Muskogee tribe off land in Georgia nearly 200 years ago.

A notetaker wrote: “I am not sure where to begin to describe how I was feeling in witnessing this . . . the brutal massacre, rapes, mutilation, beheading of 1200+ innocent people and children is reduced to this. The subtle teaching when it comes to the land of Israel, it is called Palestine . . . and Israel = bad people not welcomed in Palestine.”

Danielle Botstein emailed Charis on Dec. 10 “to inquire about availability and cost for a Sunday afternoon/evening event in January to hold a vigil to support the women in Israel who experienced sexual violence on Oct. 7, to bear witness to their trauma and lift up their stories. It’s not hosted by a formal organization, but by local parents who are looking for a space to be together, reflect and share stories.”

When a second email, sent Dec. 13, did not receive reply, she sent a third on Dec. 15, this time including E.R. Anderson, executive director of Charis Circle. “While we’d welcome partnership on this event, we are just a group of parents requesting a private rental for our gathering,” Botstein wrote.

Anderson replied on Jan. 9. “I am sorry that it took me a while to get back to you. December is indeed a very busy time. We don’t rent our space for private events. Thank you for reaching out about this vigil for victims of sexual violence. We are continuing to talk to organizations and people in our community with whom we already have deep relational ties about how Charis can support the larger conversations about grief, sexual violence, and the disproportionate harm done to women and children during war,” he said.

Botstein told the AJT that the response left her thinking “I do feel like they really don’t want to support an Israeli or Jewish event. They don’t want to support us.”

Another Jewish woman, who asked to be identified only by the initial “N,” also emailed Anderson, including a link to the New York Times investigation into the Oct. 7 sexual assaults. Anderson replied that he already had responded to Botstein.

“N” replied to Anderson, “I don’t know Danielle Botstein, but if he/she/they want to collaborate, that would be great. Perhaps we can include women and stories from victims of sexual violence from Sudan as well, as they are also victims of radical violent Jihadists. Maybe have two separate events? What do you think?”

At this writing, the AJT has not received a response to questions posed in multiple emails to Charis Books and Charis Circle, including Anderson by name, nor to telephone messages left for Anderson. Those queries included Charis’ policies on use of the facility, its willingness to host a vigil such as Botstein proposed, and what Jewish organizations and individuals Charis consults on these subjects.

Efforts to contact two speakers in the Dec. 9 program were also unsuccessful.

Women who spoke with the AJT also questioned what responsibility Agnes Scott College bears for programming at its “Charis at Agnes Scott College” the bookstore partner.

Four days before the Dec. 9 event, Liat Oren emailed her concerns to Agnes Scott College. “This is nothing short of indoctrination, manipulating impressionable kids with problematic ideas and sowing seeds of hatred. The juxtaposition of ‘colonization’ with Palestine falsely paints Jews as colonizers, ignoring their indigenous ties,” Oren wrote. “Promoting ‘liberation’ in this context seems to endorse terrorist actions for Palestinian freedom, reminiscent of the appalling acts demonstrated on 10/7. The term ‘liberation’ is directly linked to the alarming phrase ‘from the river to the sea,’ advocating harm to Jews.

“Instructing children on ‘taking action’ not only fosters and cultivates hatred but [is] also shamelessly manipulative [of] their vulnerable minds . . . This planned lesson for children not only neglects their protection but significantly undermines the cultivation of essential values like peace, love, honor, respect, sharing, and the development of a constructive and responsible role in society.”

Rachel Bowser, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, wrote back Dec. 6 to Oren, saying “We value our surrounding community and genuinely understand how difficult it is to navigate all that is happening in these challenging times. Per our conversation with Charis management, we understand that this is not a Charis sponsored event. Rather, Charis Books has had a long tradition of offering community space to many organizations or groups as a service … the post you shared included unfortunate marketing that gave the impression it is an official Charis event. It is not.”

Oren wrote back to Bowser: “Thank you for responding to my concerns and investigating the details of the event with the owner of Charis’s store. Unfortunately, I must convey my disappointment in informing you that your partner and tenant have not been forthright, feigning ignorance and providing misleading information. Over the past few days, several individuals have inquired about the event, and each received responses suggesting strong endorsement from the store, claiming that they wouldn’t host the event if they didn’t fully support it. Additionally, another response implied that the store not only supports the current event but would endorse similar ones in the future, having thoroughly reviewed all related materials.”

After receiving a similar response from Bowser, Lauren Hunt Wattenmaker replied: “Thank you for explaining this is an event not sponsored by Charis. However, I expect you and others copied here in leadership roles at the college hold the widely accepted notion that a donation of space — considered an in-kind donation — is in fact an endorsement or sponsorship of that event. I would further expect that Charis will proactively offer their space to Zionist and Israel-supporting organizations in the community.”

Wattenmaker told the AJT that she was left with the impression that college administrators “do not want to get involved even in a reactive manner to supporting or offering a space for families, women, anyone in the community to grieve over the events of Oct. 7 and the events after Oct. 7.”

Agnes Scott College did not directly answer questions emailed by the AJT but provided this statement: “Charis is an independent bookstore that leases a building across from our main campus. It sells a variety of items that include Agnes Scott-branded apparel and accessories. As Charis Books is managed by its own group, Agnes Scott has no involvement in the oversight or decision making of Charis Books, its practices or platforms.”

Botstein still hopes that Charis will agree to host a vigil on behalf of women murdered and sexually assaulted on Oct. 7, “It would just open up a sense to me that we are being listened to and that our side is being considered, that Jewish women are victims and fall into the group of women that they claim to represent, that they claim to work for social justice for.”

Originally published at on January 31, 2024.