[Marxism] The Israel lobby strikes again
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
By MICHAEL PAULSON
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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