The Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center is stepping up to defend the abrupt dismissal of Theater J artistic director Ari Roth, insisting he was fired for “Insubordination,” not pro-Israel politcal pressure.
In a statement posted yesterday on the Facebook group of the Association for Jewish Theatre, Carole Zawatsky, the DCJCC’s CEO, wrote that Roth was not fired because of his political opinions or outside pressure.
“Ari Roth’s dismissal related to a pattern of insubordination, unprofessionalism and actions that no employer would ever sanction,” Zawatsky wrote in the statement addressed to the Israel Arts Community. “He had attempted to force the DCJCC to give up Theater J to his sole control and when that effort failed, he had begun to work on a new venture, while still employed by DCJCC. Despite clear and written warnings about this insubordinate behavior Ari continued to disregard direction from the JCC management.”
Roth was then offered “an amicable separation with generous severance of six months, positive references and a joint press statement praising his work,” but according to Zawatsky, “immediately violated this agreement.”
Zawatsky added that Theater J and the DCJCC had always supported Roth’s creative vision, and hope to continue the work for which the theater has become well-known “without fear of political censure.”
Roth was abruptly dismissed from his position as artistic director, which he had held for 18 years, last week after months of discussions on how to best go separate ways. An initial press release from Theater J released last Thursday said that Roth had stepped down, while Roth himself told several press outlets, including the Forward, that he had been fired.
The dismissal led to criticism from the non-profit theater world. In an open letter to the DCJCC’s board of directors, nearly 100 artistic directors from theaters across the country denounced the dismissal as “blatantly political,” and playwright Tony Kushner sent an email to the board members asking them to apologize to Roth.
Several of Roth’s past productions, including “Return to Haifa” and “The Admission” had come under fire by some arguing that they were hostile to Israel. It even led to the formation of a local activist group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, which aims to dissuade donors from contributing to the DCJCC and its parent organization, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Anna Goldenberg is the Forward’s culture fellow.