D.C. theater retools controversial play about Palestinians

WASHINGTON (JTA) – A Washington Jewish theater funded in part by the local Jewish federation scaled back its plans to produce a controversial play concerning how Palestinians were treated when Israel became a state.

Rather than showing the entire play, Theater J instead will present “The Admission” as a workshop in which viewers will be invited to give their feedback. A spokesman for the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, which houses Theater J, said the play, by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner, will be used as a platform for discussion on how difficult subjects are treated.

Washington DC JCC officials told the Forward that outside pressure had nothing to do with the decision, which they said was made in part because there was no available Israeli theater to co-produce the play. In the past, Israeli plays mounted at Theater J have involved an Israeli company.

A small group known as COPMA — Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art — in an advertisement in the Washington Jewish Week and an email campaign on several Jewish listservs urged potential donors not to give to either Theater J or the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Robert Samet, COPMA’s chairman, said his group was not against showing the play and does not believe in censorship. However, he said his group was against any Jewish federation funds being used to put on the play.

Samet said the play was “essentially an effort to put into theater some of the people who rewrite the history of Israel.”

In an interview with the Forward following the announcement of the scaled-back version, Samet said he would still push to have the play canceled.

Federation officials had defended staging the play, citing free speech and as a pushback against the problems they said could ensue from the precedent of acceding to threats from a small outside group.

“The Admission” is a fictionalization of a controversy over whether Israeli troops carried out a massacre in Tantura, a small village on the coast, during the 1948-49 Israel Independence War.

Lerner, an Israel native, said this was not the first time he has been accused of writing anti-Israeli plays and added that he was proud to live in Israel, where such works that allow dialogue are permitted.

“The play is not an attempt to make a historical judgment based on the materials I collected, but an attempt to explore how Jews and Arabs in Israel have created their historical memories as a means for survival,” he told The Forward.

The play in its full form was to have had 35 showings. The scaled-back version will be presented 16 times.

 

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