More tragic news of the reactionary Jewish establishment. The American Jewish Historical Society in New York was set to host a discussion later this month of the Balfour Declaration by civil rights lawyer Robert Herbst, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, and Palestinian lawyer Jonathan Kuttab.
Then the event came under attack from far-right Israel supporters. David Horowitz’s organization billed the panel as “THE AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORICAL SOCIETY HOSTS DESTROY ISRAEL EVENT,” citing the sponsorship of JVP, which supports boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and Kuttab’s endorsement of a single democratic state between the river and the sea.
So much for open inquiry. Today the AJHS, whose parent executive has already come under pressure for his non-Zionist views, folded. It posted an opaque statement on its website, cancelling the discussion as well as a reading of a play that deals with the Jewish relationship to Israel.
After further consideration, the American Jewish Historical Society is cancelling the Balfour Program scheduled for October 26th and the dramatic reading of “Rubble, Rubble,” scheduled for December 14th. While the programs themselves may have merit, they do not align with the mission of the AJHS.
AJHS claims to be a scholarly organization. It says: “AJHS illuminates American Jewish history through our many archival treasures, scholarship, exhibitions, and public programs..”
The decision is coming in for scorn on Facebook. Lan Apovitz writes:
Big mistake. Cancelling this event shows how out of touch moneyed interests are with growing numbers of Jews, especially young Jews, who want our institutions to reflect our concerns, values, and politics. I have been an admirer of Dan Fishback‘s work since seeing his play “The Material World” in 2012 (where his knowledge about and love for Jewish history was first made apparent) and have had “Rubble, Rubble” on my calendar for many months. This is hugely disappointing. Luckily, we are in New York City, which has many venues and resourceful, courageous people who actually value critical thinking, debate, and creativity. The Balfour Program also looked great. What a shame.
Shame on you for caving to right-wing pressure and censoring this thoughtful, nuanced piece of art. As a non-Zionist, proudly Jewish theater artist, I’ll eagerly see Dan Fishback’s work at the next possible opportunity, but I’m going to seriously reconsider any involvement with AJHS.
I’m deeply concerned about this censorship, the timing of it, as well as the lack of detail in your announcement. Could you tell us more about your decision? It seems to me a play about Zionism and Israel is EXACTLY what we need right now. Even if many people disagree with it! It seems to me we need more conversation, not less. How else do we progress? Please tell us more about this decision.
The Forward‘s Josh Nathan-Kazis broke the story earlier today. The Forward story is aptly titled “Caving To Pressure, Jewish Group Cancels Play By Critic Of Israel.” So many Jews are upset by the censorship.
Fishback is said to be a member of JVP, too. He described his play to the Forward:
The play deals with a Jewish family split over Israel and Zionism. “It’s not a didactic play at all,” Fishback said. “It’s a complicated portrait of a family that’s trying to make sense of its legacy.”
AJHS is a constituent body of the Center for Jewish History on West 16th St. in New York, whose new CEO, David Myers, a scholar of Jewish history, has been attacked by Israel supporters for his endorsement of IfNotNow and the New Israel Fund.
Kuttab is completely impressive. I saw Herbst and him speak at Temple Israel in New Rochelle, appealing to Jews to work with him to bring democracy to Israel and Palestine.
We cannot find a way to live together if we [Palestinians and Jews] continue to hang on to the two ideologies that we started with. We must find a new idea that is worth working towards, and change our ideologies in such a way that acknowledges the other as part of us, as who we want to be… It’s a tall order, I know. But you really must move away from what I call the false view of democracy, which says that if I have 51 percent of the population, I can totally destroy negate crush delegitimize disenfranchise the other.
Shutting out Kuttab and Fishback is another reflection of the primitive state of discussion of the Palestinian experience, of ethnic cleansing and apartheid, that exists inside the official Jewish community. The smartest people in the world are now the stupidest people in the world.
It never ends. A year ago the Public Theater canceled the Siege; ten years ago the Rachel Corrie play was shut down at the New York Theatre Workshop; the other day Greta Gerwig ran away from her criticism of Israel to preserve her Oscar hopes. Apovitz mentions “moneyed interests.” That’s the dead hand of the past inside the Jewish community. But it’s not going away anytime soon.