A controversy is raging in the Washington, DC, Jewish community involving the local JCC (DCJCC) and its in-house Theater J. While a local tale, it is a distressing encapsulation of Israel’s predicament.
Israel’s rights and justness are grounded in truth. But today truth isn’t worth as much as it used to be. Those who fight for it find themselves routinely maligned as close-minded extremists. Those who trounce it are congratulated for being open-minded and fair.
Last month Theater J announced its Spring 2014 schedule.
The schedule includes a play called The Admission.
Authored by an Israeli named Motti Lerner, the play is a dramatization of what is euphemistically known as the “Tantura Affair.”
In 2000, Maariv published an article describing the Master’s thesis of a student at the University of Haifa named Teddy Katz. Teddy Katz’s thesis purported to document a previously unknown massacre during Israel’s War of Independence. He alleged that in May 1948 the IDF murdered 250 Arab civilians after winning a battle in the town of Tantura.
The article caused an uproar. Veterans of the battle sued Katz for libel. They won. Indeed, in testimony before the district court judge Katz admitted his thesis was a fabrication.
Katz later recanted his admission and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling that Katz had libeled the soldiers. The university appointed a panel of scholars to review his research materials. They found Katz had fabricated statements he alleged came from interviews with eyewitnesses.
The university cancelled its acceptance of Katz’s thesis.
Had that been the end of that, the “Tantura Affair” – that is, Katz’s blood libel against the IDF – would have been long forgotten. But Katz’s academic supervisor, then-senior lecturer at Haifa and celebrated anti-Israel propagandist Ilan Pappe, refused to let the truth get in his way.
Pappe rewrote the history of the “Tantura Affair.” In Pappe’s telling, Katz heroically revealed the truth about the evil core of the Jewish state, and was then persecuted for going against Zionist orthodoxy.
Pappe has won international acclaim and prestige by being among the most outspoken, virulent foes of Israel in academia with an Israeli passport. He has openly called for Israel’s destruction.
He is also an admitted liar.
Benny Morris wrote of Pappe that his “contempt for historical truth and factual accuracy is almost boundless.”
As Pappe sees it, truth is only important if it is aligned with his ideological goal. The French newspaper Le Soir quoted him saying, “The struggle is about ideology, not about facts. Who knows what facts are? We try to convince as many people as we can that our interpretation of the facts is the correct one, and we do it because of ideological reasons, not because we are truthseekers.”
For his part, Lerner, who has dramatized Katz’s blood libel, was quoted by The Washington Post saying that his purpose wasn’t to tell the truth, either. “The play is trying to suggest that these historical memories [of what happened at Tantura] have to be explored and revised continuously in order to create a solid basis for reconciliation between the two people.”
The “revised” – that is, false – memory Lerner seeks to create serves a clear purpose. By portraying the Jews as murderers and as the aggressors in 1948 and the Arabs as their victims, he wishes to convince everyone that it is okay for the Arabs to continue seeking Israel’s destruction, and for the world to keep pressuring the Jewish state for more unilateral concessions. Only if justice is solely on the side of the Arabs is it possible to promote “compromises” in which the Jewish state makes endless concessions to the Arabs, and in return receives terrorism, war and hatred.
The true history of Israel’s War of Independence in which local Arabs, assisted by invading Arab armies attacked the Jews of Israel with the declared purpose of annihilating them, is inconvenient for the likes of Lerner and Pappe. They have no use for the fact that every area conquered by the Arabs was rendered Jew-free, by massacre or expulsion. They certainly don’t want anyone to know about the heroism of Jews who defended themselves and their nascent state, and prevailed, albeit at great cost.
Recognizing the propaganda effort at play with The Admission, a group of local Washington, DC, activists launched a protest. Volunteers with a group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA) have demanded that the Jewish Federation of Washington, DC, defund Theater J and the DCJCC for spreading anti-Israel propaganda whose goal is to defame Israel and romanticize its enemies.
This is not COPMA’s first run-in with Theater J. COPMA was formed in 2009 following Theater J’s decision to produce the anti-Semitic diatribe Seven Jewish Children. The work portrays Jewish parents as monsters who train their children to become murderers. In a mere 1,300 words, it criminalizes as mass murderers the entire Jewish population of Israel for crimes that were never committed.
Ari Roth has served as the artistic director of Theater J for the past 17 years. He decided to produce Seven Jewish Children, and another libelous anti-Israel play written by a Palestinian terrorist in 2011. And he decided to produce The Admission.
From Roth’s statements since COPMA raised the current outcry, it is apparent that he holds truth in the same contempt as Pappe and Lerner. Roth wrote on Theater J’s website, “At least three Israeli historians wrote different versions of the conquest of Tantura: from the right, Yoav Gelber; from the center, Benny Morris, and from the left, Ilan Pappe.”
As COPMA pointed out, however, Pappe admits to prizing the cause of Israel’s destruction above truth, and Morris and Gelber have stated unequivocally that there was no massacre at Tantura.
Roth’s statement then is the equivalent of a person saying that since a dozen professors have written about the tooth fairy, she must exist, (even though they wrote that there is no tooth fairy).
Rather than weigh COPMA’s truthful claims against Roth’s obscene distortions and block the production of the play or fire Roth, the DCJCC’s leadership and the Federation have circled the wagons around Roth and Theater J.
Speaking to The Washington Post, DCJCC’s chief executive Carole R. Zawatsky defended Roth and attacked COPMA.
“COPMA,” she said, “would love to see us close down the conversation, and our intention is to open up a conversation.”
In other words, a blood libel depicting Israeli soldiers – and the society that supports them – as mass murderers, is not beyond the pale. It is the beginning of an important conversation regarding whether or not Israel is a criminal state born in war crimes.
From the perspective of those who place ideology over facts, this is the best of all possible outcomes. Supporters of Israel – and of truth – are forced to spend hours gathering evidence to prove that a lie is false. Meanwhile those who propagate it are free to play the victim of a McCarthyite attempt to silence them. And then, they can have a debate that places on Israel the burden of proving that the lie you just watched on stage is untrue and maliciously so.
The saga of The Admission is the saga of Israel in our upside down world today. Here we are, we truthtellers, maligned for our attachment to facts by those who in the service of their goal to destroy what is most important, have convinced themselves and their followers that truth is nothing special. Indeed, that it is bothersome and annoying.