[Marxism] The Israel lobby strikes again

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 20 07:50:43 MST 2014

NY Times, Dec. 20 2014
Ari Roth, Director of Jewish Theater, Is Fired

A prominent but polarizing director of Jewish theater has been fired 
from his longtime perch at the Jewish Community Center in Washington 
after several productions that raised challenging questions about Israel.

Ari Roth, a 53-year-old playwright who had served as artistic director 
of the Jewish Community Center’s Theater J for 18 years, was removed on 
Thursday. He plans to start an independent theater company, called 
Mosaic, also in Washington.

Under Mr. Roth’s leadership, Theater J has periodically produced work 
that has tested the Jewish Community Center. This year, the agency 
scaled back a production of “The Admission,” which depicted a disputed 
incident of Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians in 1948, and canceled 
a Middle East festival; in 2010 the theater scuttled a production of a 
play about Bernie Madoff after objections from Elie Wiesel, the 
Holocaust survivor and writer; in 2009 there was controversy over a play 
by Caryl Churchill that some saw as anti-Semitic.

Mr. Roth said he was fired after unsuccessful efforts to negotiate an 
agreement to allow him to do some of his most contested work as a 
freelancer, or to make Theater J, which is producing six shows this 
season and has a $1.6 million budget, financially independent from the 
Jewish Community Center. He said he had recently been reprimanded for 
speaking to the news media without permission, and that he believed the 
J.C.C. wanted him gone to eliminate a possible source of concern for 
donors during a coming capital campaign.

“This was a long time coming, but it was becoming clear that for the 
theater to fully express itself, not just on the Middle East but on a 
whole range of issues, there was a growing artistic impasse,” he said. 
He said the issues had worsened significantly after the war in Gaza this 

“There has been a closing of the minds in the established Jewish 
community in support of Israel — a narrowing of whose pain we 
acknowledge, whose deaths we acknowledge,” he said. “This was a 
complicated summer, with a lot of pain going around, and things have 
gotten a lot more restrictive in the organized, umbrella institutions.”

The Jewish Community Center declined to discuss the specific reasons for 
Mr. Roth’s ouster. “The D.C.J.C.C. came to a point where we decided it 
was time for us to have a change in leadership,” said Carole R. 
Zawatsky, the center’s chief executive.

But Ms. Zawatsky insisted that the ouster, which was first reported by 
The Washington Post, “absolutely is not” a response to pressure from 
hawkish donors or a reflection of a reluctance to air critical views 
about Israel. She said the center had hosted speakers and films 
representing many viewpoints on the Middle East, and would continue to 
do so, even at Theater J, where, she said, the center would appoint a 
new artistic director.

“I believe as a Jewish community we have to have the most open 
conversation that we can and that places like J.C.C.s have the capacity 
to create a safe space for discussion and dialogue,” she said. “Our 
record does stand for itself: We’ve continued to do work that challenges 
and brings forward some of the toughest conversations.”

The playwright Tony Kushner, whose own criticism of Israel has made him 
controversial, said he viewed the firing as “an act of political 
censorship.” Theater J has staged several of Mr. Kushner’s plays, 
including a current production of “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to 
Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures.”

Mr. Roth’s ouster reflects tensions in the American Jewish community 
over debate about Israel, particularly within Jewish institutions, but 
also, as the debate over the Metropolitan Opera production of “The Death 
of Klinghoffer” illustrated, in the broader cultural world.

“I can understand the discomfort of the J.C.C. with the material that is 
being presented again and again, and I can understand his demand for 
artistic freedom,” said Edna Nahshon, a professor of theater at the 
Jewish Theological Seminary. “Maybe it got to a point where the material 
and the home don’t fit anymore.”

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