Two days ago, the American Jewish Historical Society bowed to rightwing Zionists and cancelled a play-reading and a discussion of the Balfour Declaration featuring members of Jewish Voice for Peace that it had scheduled for late October.
Two victims of the censorship have now vowed to stage the events elsewhere. Playwright Dan Fishback is raising money to put on his show “Rubble, Rubble,” which itself “explores the ever-widening rift in the Jewish world” over Israel. (More below.)
And Jonathan Kuttab, the Palestinian lawyer who was supposed to discuss the Balfour Declaration with Robert Herbst, a civil rights lawyer and member of JVP, told me that he has made travel plans to get to New York on October 28, with the aim of getting a new venue for the Balfour Declaration discussion. Slinking away without having the discussion would give AJHS and the forces of silence a victory.
“I think this kind of thing should not go unchallenged,” Kuttab said. “If we fold and play dead then they will get away with it without paying any political price. This wasn’t a discussion with parliamentarians or UN officials. It was a discussion within the Jewish community about what Balfour means. And if this conversation is shut down, then something is seriously wrong, someone is afraid of the truth.”
Kuttab and Herbst appeared together in a synagogue in Westchester County last November. Kuttab appealed to the Jewish audience to help him build a democracy in Israel and Palestine. This sort of discussion is now verboten at the Jewish Historical Society, which is housed at the Center for Jewish History, whose new CEO is the otherwise-impressive scholar, David N. Myers, whose expressions of non-Zionism, and call on the Jewish community to acknowledge the Nakba, have also come under attack. This time Myers blinked.
“What really bothered me was the heavy handedness of it,” Kuttab said. “Zionists cannot determine what is Jewish or not, or what is acceptable or not, in Jewish circles.”
The Jewish Historical Society initially sought to defuse the criticism by arranging to have a rightwing Zionist figure make the case for the Balfour Declaration, before it ultimately caved; and Kuttab said, “Ahlan wa-Sahlan.” Welcome! “I don’t mind if they want to bring someone in. I will talk to anyone about this,” he said. As he respects anyone’s right to ignore him too. But at least have the discussion.
As for Fishback, he has lamented the censorship on his Facebook page and at Indiegogo:
On October 10th, I was devastated to learn that a reading of my new musical “Rubble Rubble,” which was to take place at the American Jewish Historical Society, had been abruptly canceled by AJHS’s board. Without ever reading the play, they caved to a right-wing smear campaign that attacked me for my non-violent support of Palestinian human rights.
On a broad level, I found this kind of censorship chilling. In our time of extreme repression, Jewish communities need to protect dissident voices, rather than succumb to the reactionary trend of exclusion and shunning.
But on a less lofty note, I was just rattled as a playwright. We had been working up to this performance for over a year. I made major career decisions based around it. My collaborators and I were shocked and confused. We were so overjoyed when AJHS pledged support for this work. And overnight, it all vanished….
With our without AJHS, this play WILL happen. Our voices WILL be heard. The show WILL go on.
This Indiegogo campaign will raise funds for us to mount a performance of “Rubble Rubble” without that institutional support.
Here’s Fishback’s description of the play:
“Rubble Rubble” is a half-play/half-musical that charts a Jewish family’s century-long arc from Left to Right, and explores the ever-widening rift in the Jewish world over, not just Israel, but the purpose of life itself.
Also he said this re the proceeds of the production, going forward:
We have an incredible company and creative team–all of the pieces are in place, and we are ready to start doing our work at the drop of a hat. But now we are committed to making this performance bigger and better than it would have been otherwise, and without a big institution’s farkakte $18 ticket fees. Now, admission to “Rubble Rubble” will be free…
I, the playwright, will not financially profit from this performance at all. I just want to see it happen in the world!
Please join us in supporting free speech and creating space in the cultural landscape for Jews who oppose the occupation.
I’m betting both presentations go off in the end, and gain a spirited audience. Anti-Zionism will some day take over American Jewish life, there can be no question about that. The issue is the pace of that accession. The pathetic response of the Jewish establishment in the character of the American Jewish Historical Society suggests it’ll be years. Though I always think of the famous phrase from Sun Also Rises. How did you go bankrupt? “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.”
Thanks to Annie Robbins.