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It is an argument that erupted in Israel over a decade ago, following a doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Haifa claiming that Israel murdered up to 250 civilians when taking over the village. The issue reached Israel’s top court, after former soldiers who had participated in the battle sued the author of the dissertation for libel. The Supreme Court ruled that the author’s dissertation claim was not accurate. Separately, a University of Haifa review panel, in a split vote, decided not to approve the dissertation.
But the issue has never been settled.
COPMA, in a lengthy discussion of the play, claimed the drama focuses on “a vicious lie about Israel.” But in a response letter, Paul Scham, a professor of Israel studies at the University of Maryland, argued that the fact that doubts were raised about the event “doesn’t mean that there is no evidence or that it is a canard, or that asking these questions makes one ‘anti-Israel.’”
Playwright Lerner, who grew up in Zichron Yaakov, not far from Tantura, said he recalled hearing stories of the massacre from neighbors. He issued his own statement saying that “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.”
This is the third time in recent years that Theater J has been targeted by activists from the right for its choice of plays highlighting controversial issues related to Israel. In 2009, it was censured for its decision to read Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children,” which blasted Israel’s 2008 military campaign in Gaza. Then, in 2011, COPMA launched a campaign against Theater J’s production of “Return to Haifa,” a play based on a novella by Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani, which discusses the issue of Palestinian refugees.
While these efforts succeeded in attracting attention, they did not succeed in blocking funds to Theater J. After the 2011 controversy, the Federation’s board adopted a resolution stating it would continue to fund the Washington DCJCC and that the Federation values “freedom of expression, robust dialogue, and diversity of opinion.”