The Tempest (or constructive engagement with an adversarial point of view, and other protest letters)

The letter below was forwarded to me from our Chief Executive at the Washington DCJCC. I print it here because it was also forwarded to some major Jewish newspapers around the world, so we can all now see what’s at stake.

On the other hand, I also want to report that I called the author of this letter, the well-spoken Host of Israel Magazine on Sirius XM Radio, Jay Garfinkle, a radio and television pro with over 35 years in the business, and we had a very candid and open 25 minute talk. What I valued about his comments were that they were coming from an informed place. He and his wife and friends have been coming to Theater J for many years. He reported to me that many are growing disenchanted with my programming choices; that we’re veering more and more to the left; that it’s “getting worse,” and that I’m not programming for the mainstream of the Jewish community. We began by him telling me what he thought was so arrogant sounding in my interview with the Washington Post. I agreed with him; that it was stupid of me to say “”We’re not going to take a right-wing British journalist’s word that it’s blood-libel.” Forget the fact that I continued to say, “We’re going to find out for ourselves whether it is or isn’t; whether we’re hearing a rational reaction to the play, or a slightly hysterical response. Is the play a blood libel? Is it touching a very raw nerve? How to parse what’s valuable in this piece–what should be paid attention to–and what might be unfair and unearned.” I said all that too, more or less. But I shouldn’t have brought the “right wing” epithet into the conversation, because they made me look like i was picking a fight. That’s not my intention and I spoke without proper consideration.

So that’s how we started the conversation. And it was good and substantive. And in the end, Jay said nice things to me–that I was an honorable man–for calling, I presume. I don’t know that he’ll be retracting the call for my head–or my job–which apparently was emailed to many important publications in the Jewish world. I don’t feel terribly worried about that — yet — and I mostly feel better for having engaged in a constructive dialogue with a smart theater goer who appreciates some of our work but is critical of other aspects of what we’re doing. I learned from the conversation and I think it will make me a more sensitized programmer and producer.

That’s the good part. Here’s the red meat:

From: Jay Garfinkel []
Sent: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 6:47 PM
To: Mickelson, Arna
Subject: Ari Roth has got to go

Dear Arna:
The continuing pattern of Anti Israel productions this year under Ari Roth is now beyond the pale with the announcement that the JCC will stage readings of Seven Jewish Children.

I have attached below a report in today’s Jerusalem Post that the BBC has refused to air the play because it is Anti-Semitic.

This is a big deal. Ari is hurting the JCC. His interview in the Washington Post was arrogant. The JCC will reap a whirlwind of push back over this.

It’s time for Ari Roth to go to another theater that is not supported by the Jewish Community.

-Jay Garfinkel
Host of Israel Magazine on Sirius XM Radio

Cc: JTA, New York Jewish Week, The Forward, Washington Jewish Week

BBC refuses to air controversial Gaza play
Mar. 18, 2009
JONNY PAUL, Jerusalem Post correspondent, London , THE JERUSALEM POST

The BBC has refused to broadcast a radio version of a highly controversial play that critics have labeled anti-Semitic, stating that airing the drama would compromise its impartiality.

Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza caused a storm last month while it was being performed at the Royal Court Theater in west London. Jewish community leaders dubbed it anti-Semitic for its portrayal of Israelis, which they said reinforced false stereotypes and included incorrect information.

Written by British playwright Caryl Churchill, a pro-Palestinian activist and patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the play was produced to raise funds for Gaza.

The 10-minute drama describes seven world events through the eyes of Jewish parents and grandparents who are determining how best to explain Jewish history to their children – Nazi Germany, the aftermath of World War II, the journey to Israel, the social anxiety apparent before The War of Independence, the consequences of the Six Day War, the first Intifada and finally today – post-Operation Cast Lead.

This excerpt describes a parent’s emotional response to events in Gaza: “Tell her they did it to themselves. Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I’m not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them, tell her we’re the ones to be sorry for, tell her they can’t talk suffering to us. Tell her we’re the iron fist now, tell her it’s the fog of war, tell her we won’t stop killing them till we’re safe.”

According to The Guardian newspaper, BBC Radio Four rejected the script, deciding they could not use it on the grounds of impartiality.

BBC Radio Four’s commissioning editor Jeremy Howe said: “It is a no, I am afraid – both Mark Damazer [Radio Four controller] and I think it is a brilliant piece, but after discussing it with editorial policy, we have decided we cannot run with it on the grounds of impartiality. I think it would be nearly impossible to run a drama that counters Caryl Churchill’s view. Having debated long and hard we have decided we can’t do Seven Jewish Children.”

However, a statement made by the BBC added: “This play was not commissioned and no indication was given it would be broadcast. After due consideration, we felt it would not work for our audience.”

Last month, over 60 prominent Jewish community members – including actors, rabbis and leaders – opposed the theater’s decision to stage the play in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“It portrays Israeli parents as inhuman triumphalists who care little about anything except their children’s feelings and who teach them that Arabs are sub-human and must be hated,” stated the letter.

The play was described as “a 10-minute history of Israel, ending with the bombing of Gaza,” and the letter’s signatories questioned the historical facts contained within it.

Seven Jewish Children has also roused strong reactions from the general public. A letter published in The Irish Times on Monday said: “I’m going to write a short play, and the title will be Seven Muslim Children. It’s going to be a 10-minute history of Islam and will consist of a series of short dialogues in which Muslim parents, teachers and clerics teach their children to hate. They teach them to hate the West, to hate Jews, to hate globalization, to hate democracy, to hate everything except Islam. No entrance fee will be charged, but viewers should make a donation to a charity for children orphaned by 9/11.”

Mel Bezalel contributed to this report

* * *


from Joseph Friedman:

“Your website invites persons from the community to respond either with praise or protest regarding the activities at the JCCDC.  I feel compelled to  respectfully raise my voice in strong protest to your decision to engage Playwright Caryl Churchill’s Play,  entitled “Seven Jewish Children A Play for Gaza.” Although I have not seen the entire wording of  the Play, the  reported version in the Washington Post dated March 17, 2009 at page C1, leads me to the conclusion that this  ten  minute  reading is skewed against Israel’s recent 22 day war in Gaza called Cast Lead.

At least one line in  the reading as reported is false and not representative of any responsible Jewish parent. I am referring to the line: “Tell her they’re filth …Tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.” To the contrary, Iranian voices and Palestinian textbooks call for “wiping Israel off the map.”

I find it ironic, and reprehensible that a Jewish Institution has to give another forum for anti-Semitism.  Israel and the Jewish people are beset with a spate of anti-Semitism worldwide, including attacks on Jews and/ or Synagogues in Russia, Eastern Europe, Mumbai, India, Canada, France and Venezuela.

We are not against a fair and balanced debate of international issues regarding Cast Lead. Israel’s civilian population received  almost  19,000 rocket attacks from Arabs  in 2008 before operation Cast Lead. Over 500,000 Israeli  citizen’s lives were constantly disrupted  for two years by siren blasts warning of rocket attacks.  Moreover, Israel  made 800,000 calls to Gaza residents warning them before the actual invasion started.

Indeed, Israel and the IDF made every  effort not to hurt  innocent non-combatants who were forced by Hamas to stay in the war zone.   The new anti-Zionism  is just the old anti-Semitism.   I would hope that you would reconsider the arrangements and cancel the production of the Play.

Sincerely, Joseph Friedman

* * *

JCC Promoting Antisemitism March 16, 2009

Posted by LB in America

Antisemitic plays in the guise of legitimate criticism of Israel are nothing new. In 2005, there was the British polemic about the “activist” Rachel Corrie. The most recent of these artistic expressions of racism, Seven Jewish Children, does not even make an honest attempt to mask its antisemitism.

Antisemitism will probably persist as long as the sun rises in the east, but what I learned from the NY Times today has truly managed to shock me. The JCC in Washington, DC is serving as a mouthpiece to this modern blood libel. This is not the first time the JCC has promoted “progressive causes,” and pretty crudely, too. This past September, Sandra Bernhard warned “Sarah Palin not to come into Manhattan lest she get gang-raped by some of Sandra’s big black brothers.”

This, however, is a new low. This is the JEWISH community center. On their blog, Theater J, run by the Washington DC JCC, Ari Roth, director of this trash, says “[t]he play is this year’s My Name is Rachel Corrie.” Of course it is. But is he really implying that is something positive?

He says the play is “problematic… [for] suggesting that there is a Jewish ownership—not merely an Israeli military’s responsibility—for the recent violence in Gaza.” I don’t even know where to start. Never mind that diaspora Jewish communities do not even come close to taking an active role in the welfare of the Jewish state, thinking that throwing money at “their brothers” is sufficient. Forget that those who Israel targeted were, and still are, trying to effect a genocide upon the Jews. But no, the play is only “controversial.”

Next time your local Jewish Community Center asks you for a donation – ask them if they, too, promote antisemitism.

* * *

Dear Mr. Roth,
I am writing to protest Theater J’s decision to put on Caryl Churchill’s anti-Israel propaganda piece, “Seven Jewish Children.”
I read the text over carefully before writing this letter, since I am a writer myself and know how easily words can be distorted. Having read it, I fail to see any dramatic or literary merit in it. I do not think it deserves to be dignified with the term “play,” as if it were the same class of work as “Oedipus the King” or “Hamlet” or “Hedda Gabler.” It strikes me as an artfully constructed piece of political propaganda designed to demonize Israelis, while containing just enough contrary voices to allow Ms. Churchill to deflect the criticism that her work is anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, the title of the work, the statements Ms. Churchill and her supporters have made to the media, and the appeal for playgoers to contribute to a Palestinian charity, make it all too clear what its true agenda is. That purpose is not to stage a complex artistic presentation of various voices in a terrible human drama, nor to stimulate a discussion between the two sides of a horrendous conflict, but to read Israel and the Israeli people out of what used to be called the Family of Man.
I do not believe in censorship of Ms. Churchill’s or anybody else’s opinions, but I do not understand why a Jewish cultural center has decided to produce this work that incites hatred and violence against our people.
Martin Berman-Gorvine
Silver Spring, MD