I attended the one-man show “The Forbidden Conversation” at the 14th Street Y, October 15. Developed by Israeli-American Gili Getz during a fellowship at the Y’s “Laboratory for Jewish culture (LABA),” it premiered in 2016 at the Center for Jewish History, and has been circuiting North American Jewish venues.
Its premise is that during Getz’s 2014 visit to Israel during the 2014 Gaza “crisis” and “war” — including killing of demonstrators in the West Bank, the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens, and a run up to a full Israeli bombing campaign against Gaza — Getz discovered he was no longer able to talk with his Israeli father about the pointlessness and criminality of IDF actions.
Another point of drama in the show was Getz’s inspiration and joy in supporting Yitzhak Rabin, seeing him as leading a move to normalization and peace with Palestinians, and his presence at the rally at which Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli November 4, 1995.
In 2015, Getz did a photo essay covering a conference of Open Hillel at Harvard to broaden the acceptable discussion about Israel, contesting Hillel’s guidelines for events which forbade many speakers who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactic or otherwise oppose Israeli hegemony in Palestine.
Getz has a formidable history to do the show. He’s an Israeli-American who served in the IDF as a combat photographer, documenting the violence of the second Intifada and the grinding daily humiliation of the Israeli occupation. He’s also an accomplished working actor, director, American Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate, was editor of YNet US, ”and participated in Obama’s two presidential campaigns, Organizing for America, J Street and Citizen Action of New York.”
In other words, as one would expect, the one-man show has excellence in design and effective brevity to convey its thesis. The thesis is that American Jews, just as he discovered with his Israeli father, cannot talk across divides about Israel/Palestine. That there is a degeneration into accusations and indignant denial, rage at the idea of Palestinian humanity or vulnerability, Jewish State culpability.
The performance was followed by a talk with Rabbi Shira Koch-Epstein, executive director of the 14th Street Y, and Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor of the Forward.
Ungar-Sargon talked about the “red lines” that she is expected to maintain in article selection. She proudly said that the Forward has published more Palestinian opinion pieces than any other large American Jewish publication, resisting a closed environment.
Ungar-Sargon said that, for younger Jews, Trump has spread a taint on nationalism, “and Zionism is Jewish nationalism.”
Koch-Epstein said that American Jews had “outsourced Jewish identity to Israel for the last 60 years.” Dialog with Israel will improve as American Jews are reestablishing their identity independently, she forecast.
The theme of Gili Getz’s work is that talk must happen between anti-Zionists and the staunch proponents of Jewish nationalism in America, and between American Jews and Israeli Jews, or Jews will fragment as a community — and, presumably, not deal in a more healthy way with Israel/Palestine.
My thoughts after the performance and talk: What does this have to do with Palestine’s agony? Is a dysphoria of Jewish self-image and group comity significant? I may not be a good enough Jew, may not take seriously enough talk of Jewish unity and Jewish life.
Given the 100 year history of Jewish colonial advancement in Palestine, and the extremity of Palestinian conditions in Gaza and the West Bank, under IDF control, and the millions in perilous exile, the concerns for Jewish feelings and communal life seem less than compelling.
As a tactic to soothe the discomfort, I can see it — but have little hope that it will save any Palestinian lives or communities, much less lead to any restoration or reparations.
It seemed both worthy and irrelevant, irrelevant to how to stop the process of nationalist Jews injuring Palestinians. The Zionist regime in Palestine is born in assertion, in blood and iron. Will it be destroyed by anything less?
Gili Getz may be seeing over a horizon I cannot. To try to force a change in the situation so that enough Jews are not only non-Nationalist but actively anti-Zionist, enough to force Federations and major Jewish organizations to join BDS and lobby against US cover for Israel, seems improbable.
The American Jewish Committee in April 1918 approved a statement thanking Britain for the Balfour Declaration on a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, while expressing a demurral with the more militant goals of Zionists. One board member denounced it as a “weak straddle.”
Since then, the American Jewish organizations with claims to “mainstream” inclusiveness have not directly fought Zionism but sought to subtly, supportively guide it. In practice, they’ve been abettors to the crimes, and it’s unimaginable they will change.
In Haaretz, IfNotNow founder Simone Zimmerman writes that this week’s Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Tel Aviv had the theme “We Need to Talk.”
“The ‘need to talk’ is a recurring theme across the Jewish community today; if we could just have more civil discourse with one another, all of our problems would go away.”
However, Zimmerman says, “The JFNA’s public calls for civility are just a cynical diversion tactic. …We should demand nothing less than full repentance from our institutions.“