Important Editorial Musings from The Forward: On “Stifling Our Artists”

Stifling Our Artists
Editorial Notebook
By Jane Eisner
Published January 13, 2010, issue of January 22, 2010.

The fourth annual Schmooze conference took place at the hip City Winery in Lower Manhattan on January 11 and 12, bringing together Jewish artists and presenters to debate, discuss and, well, schmooze. There was talk of a “sea change” this year, and not just because of the financial meltdown or the growing popularity of Fox News.

Instead, the panelists in the session I moderated spoke of a palpable sense of fear and retrenchment in the communities they serve and from many of the donors who fund their work. The elections of Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, combined with the vicious international fallout from Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, have created a chilling atmosphere unlike any these veterans have seen in a long time.

And so the Koffler Centre of the Arts in Toronto was forced to sever ties to an exhibit because the artist was involved in anti-Zionist activities. Theater J in Washington, D.C., was condemned for staging a 10-minute play that was slammed by some as “a ten-minute blood libel.” The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s decision to include a sympathetic film about a pro-Palestinian activist who was killed in Gaza as one of its 71 offerings this year caused an uproar in the notoriously tolerant city.

Provocative art that might have raised eyebrows a few years ago now raises bells of alarm.

The boundaries of acceptable discourse have shifted, and those who care about Jewish art and culture are scrambling to understand where the new lines are drawn. Lines do need to be drawn — not every film, play or art installation deserves an airing in a Jewish context, just as not every opinion is suitable to be published in this newspaper.

Besides, there is a cyclical nature to this dynamic: Artists who care deeply about their craft often challenge the status quo, and funders have sought to shape the outcome of work from the time that royalty sponsored statues and symphonies.

Nonetheless, the current chilling atmosphere needs to be recognized and addressed. The Jewish institutional world ought to pay attention to those on culture’s front lines, and have the confidence and courage to allow dissenting voices to be heard and provocative issues to be raised. The fear that this will somehow embolden Israel’s enemies has to be tempered by the knowledge that our survival depends on embracing creativity, not censoring it.

3 thoughts on “Important Editorial Musings from The Forward: On “Stifling Our Artists”

  1. No feedback link is available at The Forward editorial page, or I’d have commented there —

    … to say I only know about SF and Toronto from
    reports, but about DC … well, yes: in a time of increasing internal tensions in the Jewish community, the Churchill play was condemned by a vocal few here (as it was in other cities and countries), and was appreciated by many more who attended and discussed it; it was supported by the JCC and, in wider community, was well-reviewed and included in the Washington Post’s drama critic’s end-of-year list.

    There are stories to tell and issues to be dealt with and learned from about the arts and politics, but the editor’s musings here seem a bit superficial and perhaps needed a little more consideration. Maybe at the Schmooze conference the topic was more fully explored.

    • There is a certain conceit to the belief that Jews who spout traditional anti-Semitism are “on culture’s front lines,” and “embracing creativity.” Accepting demonstrably false stereotypes of Jews and joining the bandwagon condemning them with pedestrian libels is an age-old refuge for craven Jews with inferiority complexes and substandard (for Jews) intelligence that requires no talent. Comparing Israeli Jews to Nazis for defending themselves against annihilation, the current rage in the Jewish art world, is too stupid a concept to be considered art, culture or creativity, and is even stupider as a tactic to ingratiate one’s self with the gentiles (the real motivation), who probably despise those ass-kissing Jews even more than their fellow Jews do.

  2. For the record, we deplore “Jews who spout traditional anti-Semitism” and would hardly count ourselves among the bunch.

    Jewish pride and our proclivity for self-reflection and self-critique in concert with a clear-eyed look at the world and its challenges to our pursuits of happiness, meaning and fulfillment are made manifest in many different ways. We celebrate AND investigate our own behavior, as has been our noble tradition for centuries.

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