The other day we picked up the Forward’s report about a Jewish stage in D.C. censoring an Israeli’s play about the Nakba. The Washington Post has also covered the decision by the D.C. Jewish community center to take Motti Lerner’s “The Admission” off its main stage and make it a workshop production.
The Post reports that the Jewish Federations of Washington were threatened with the loss of $250,000 in donations if the play were staged.
This is an excellent controversy. Lerner’s play deals with an Israeli massacre of Palestinians in 1948 whose history was suppressed. And as a result, The Post is actually reviewing historical information about the Nakba, for Washington readers.
Here’s a new detail:
[The play] will now be presented in what they are describing as a “workshop” run, lasting 16 performances, in proposed repertory with “Golda’s Balcony,” a biographical play about the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.
The Post reporters, Peter Marks and Nelson Pressley, then explore the battle between Theater J’s artistic director Ari Roth and a local group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, COPMA, which worked to halt the production.
Roth said that COPMA’s effort to paint “The Admission” as anti-Israel smears the play’s intentions and meaning. For his part, Lerner, whose plays include “Pangs of the Messiah,” staged at Theater J in 2007, says he’s taken aback by the vehement pushback against a play no one has even seen. “Their protest expresses a lot of fear,” the playwright said by phone from Chicago, where another of his works, “Paulus,” is in rehearsal. “I didn’t know that this would be so frightening and scary that it would create such a discourse in America.”
Nevertheless, the campaign against “The Admission” has gotten traction.
Why? The Washington Post talks about the money:
Roth says he was told other donors had vowed to withhold upward of $250,000 unless the play was canceled. Samet said he has heard from people who have withheld funds from the federation “and some of them, we know, are bigger donors.”
Now here is a little rudimentary discussion of the Nakba, inside the Washington Post:
Two years ago, a play from Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theatre, “Return to Haifa,” provoked a similar outcry from [Robert] Samet’s group [COPMA]. The tale was about a visit by a Palestinian family from the West Bank to the house in Haifa they once owned that is now inhabited by Israeli Jews. Written by an Israeli, Boaz Gaon… the work drew ire in part because of its depiction of Palestinians as having been forced to leave at the time of Israeli independence. A counterargument holds that Palestinians fled on their own.
OK, let’s say they fled in fear for their lives. Shouldn’t the Post note what is inarguably a cause of ongoing conflict: they were not allowed to return.
Good for the newspaper, it offers playwright Motti Lerner’s understanding of the Nakba:
he grew up hearing about what he termed the “massacre” in Tantura.
“My neighbors and family members, they all knew about the massacre; some of them participated in it,” Lerner said. “They were there and they saw it. This was not talked about frequently, but it was mentioned.” His interest in writing about it was kindled several years ago, he said, after a controversy erupted in Israel over a student at Haifa University whose thesis on the events of Tantura was rejected and who was subsequently sued by some of the surviving soldiers.
I must ask, Will the Post start publishing stories of the Nakba by people who were its victims? Can you imagine telling the story of the Holocaust by talking to German people? And when will the Post start using the word, Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe?
The pro-Israel group COPMA doesn’t like the decision to mount the play in any form. It is incensed at the prospect that Nakba consciousness is coming to Washington. So it is ratcheting up the pressure:
We can’t help but ask ourselves whether this is a victory for COPMA and our campaign, and the conclusion is unavoidable that it is NOT. In some respects it is worse. Theater J at the DCJCC will still do all in its power to spread the modern day blood libel of a massacre at Tantura. They’ve dug up a teacher at the University of Maryland who gave quotes to the media indicating that the previously discredited massacre may actually have been true…
In addition, they’ve indicated plans to bring the author, Motti Lerner, here to speak on the subject, and based upon past media quotes from him, he will tell audiences that Israeli soldiers massacred Palestinians in Tantura during the War of Independence. And he will say this to audiences at Theater J with a straight face despite the previous repudiation and apology by the author of the modern day blood libel in the Israeli court system. In short, Ari Roth at the DCJCC’s Theater J, using Federation support and donor dollars, is going to do all he can to persuade attendees that Israelis massacred Palestinians at Tantura in 1948. It’s shameful.
This is what your donations to the DCJCC and The Federation are supporting. So, do you think this is a victory?
To be continued. Supporters of Lerner’s play also have strong voices. They will be heard from.