Theater J Scales Back Show as Pro-Israel Critics Pressure Washington D.C. Troupe

'The Admission' Will Be Workshop — Not Full Production

Controversial: One of Theater J’s disputed productions was 2011’s ‘Return to Haifa,’ which critics claimed took an anti-Israel approach.
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Controversial: One of Theater J’s disputed productions was 2011’s ‘Return to Haifa,’ which critics claimed took an anti-Israel approach.

By Nathan Guttman

Published October 09, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
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“Is this what you want your charitable donations to the Jewish Federation to support?” asked an Oct. 2 email blast sent out by a group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art. In another statement the group asked its supporters: “Do you want your charitable donations to support ‘radical political theater’ attacking Israel? You have a choice.”

“We all understand that withholding contributions is a very drastic step, but the federation’s board will not listen,” said Robert Samet, COPMA’s chairman, in an interview with the Forward. Samet made clear his group would not accept any compromise that allowed showing the play at Theater J in any format.

“Their tactics sound very much like McCarthyist censorship,” retorted Susie Gelman, past president of the Federation, in an interview with the Forward. Gelman continues to serve on the Federation’s executive committee.

Compared to the previous episodes involving Theater J, say community activists, COPMA’s campaign against “The Admission” reached more donors, and many of them raised the issue with Federation leaders. The campaign was viewed by Federation officials as potentially threatening this year’s fundraising efforts. But insiders said that so far, no one has reneged on their contribution pledges.

While the debate over free speech and the meaning of being “pro-Israel” raged in the local press and in public statements, behind the scenes, Federation, Washington DCJCC and Theater J officials were engaged in talks to avoid a showdown that could lead to a break with some donors in the community.

Roth had struck a combative tone in response to the donor financial pressure.

“Do our principles have a price tag?” he asked. “To me the answer has always been no.”

The battle over “The Admission” focuses on the veracity of claims that Israel soldiers carried out a massacre in Tantura, a small village along the Mediterranean coast.


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