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Stage controversial Israeli play, Dramatists Guild writes D.C. theater

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Dramatists Guild of America is supporting the staging of a controversial Israeli play at a Washington theater partially funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Theatre J originally planned to put on a full production of “The Admission” by Motti Lerner, but has scaled it back to be part of a workshop to be used as a platform for discussion on how difficult subjects are treated.

The downscaling followed protests by a group called COPMA, Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art. The small but vocal group has taken out ads in several newspapers stating their objections to federation funding for the play.

“The Admission” is a fictionalized account of a controversy over whether Israeli troops carried out a massacre in Tantura, a small coastal village, during the 1948-49 Israeli War for Independence.

The Dramatists Guild stated its support for staging the play in a two-page letter sent last week to Liza Levy, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the D.C. Jewish Community Center.

“The reason we dramatists feel so strongly about this is that COPMA’s actions strike at the very heart of the function of art and culture,” the guild’s letter said. “While the arts may sometimes inspire us to support our social institutions, they may unsettle and challenge us and makes us question our values and assumptions. It must never be dangerous to encourage people to think.”

COPMA has said it is against federation money being used to produce the play and would not protest if an independent group staged it.

The guild, whose president, Stephen Schwartz, composed such hits as “Wicked,” “Pippin” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” criticized COPMA’s “bullying tactics.”

The letter cited Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch as saying in 2012 in the Knesset, “In the past, some plays by Motti Lerner have created stormed discourse. … This discourse is taking place in the public sphere and that is where it should be. The State of Israel is proud of the freedom of expression in the arts and especially the freedom of expression in the theatre.”

The workshop is set to run March 20-April 6. 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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