Because of her concern over censorship in Jewish institutions regarding Israel, Judy Wall, a vice-president of P.P.I., has brought this recent Washington Post op-ed by Rabbi Sid Schwarz (of the CLAL Jewish think tank) to our attention. Our blogger, Paul Scham, an academic who lives in the D.C. area, has also written on this controversy. The following is an abridged version of Rabbi Schwarz’s article:
Given the controversy surrounding Theater J’s production of Motti Lerner’s play “The Admission” at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, I expected to see a full-scale indictment of Israel’s conduct during its 1948 war of independence. Instead I encountered a play that probed the complexity of war, politics, memory, ethnic identity, love and survival with astounding sensitivity and nuance.
After the play was scheduled last summer, a small group of Washington-area Jews organized themselves into a group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art. The group exerted enormous pressure on the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to cut funding to the DCJCC because of Theater J’s sponsorship of plays that ask uncomfortable questions about Israel. . . . In a display of courage all too rare these days, the executive director and president of the Jewish Federation declared that they would not cave to COPMA’s pressure, even though holding firm would likely cost the federation tens of thousands of dollars in contributions.
In fact, the DCJCC and Theater J did make a concession to the protesters. It downgraded “The Admission” from a full production to a “workshop” and inserted into the spring schedule an additional production of “Golda’s Balcony,” a play about former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.
The incident is but one of many examples of how the Jewish community labors under a not-so-hidden loyalty test regarding what one can and cannot say about Israel. . . .
I understand what’s behind this atmosphere of fear and retribution. Israel is increasingly treated as a pariah nation despite being the only true democracy in the Middle East and having a far better human rights record than its neighbors. While powerless to change the antipathy of so much of the world toward Israel, some Jews try to demand of their co-religionists a loyalty to the country that allowed the Jewish people to reconstitute itself after the Holocaust. Yet with the passage of time, fewer and fewer Jews carry these memories, and their ties to Jewish solidarity weaken. Attempts to enforce communal discipline and to require a non-critical assessment of Israel not only cannot succeed in America, they also are likely to alienate the very Jews the community hopes to engage.
Ironically, a play like “The Admission” may do more to engage Jews with the issues at the heart of the Middle East conflict than do foolhardy attempts to enforce loyalty. The play portrays an overly self-righteous son trying to come to grips with the fact that his father may have been complicit in the killing of Arab civilians during the war. The father, perhaps altruistically and perhaps out of a sense of guilt, has devoted his life to improving the quality of life of Arab Israelis. The Palestinian Israelis in the play are torn between their desire to stay out of trouble, get an education and improve their lives and the lives of their children and their desire to unearth evidence of an injustice done to their parents and grandparents. . . .