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Media Analyses





Washington Post Whitewashes J Street, Theater J in Same Issue


Separate Washington Post departments get two different Israel-related subjects fundamentally wrong — both similarly skewed against legitimate Jewish-Israeli concerns — in the same issue. What are the odds?

The Post’s Sunday, August 7 edition included an Outlook/Book World section review of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami’s recently released A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation. The reviewer? Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian media moderate whose acceptance of J Street at face value predetermines a favorable review.

J Street evasion

J Street is the self-described "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby. Yet it has criticized Israeli counter-terrorism campaigns like "Operation Cast Lead" in the Gaza Strip, lobbied against a congressional letter condemning the murder of an Israeli family by Palestinian terrorists, joined with the pro-Tehran National Iranian American Council to oppose U.S. sanctions on the mullahs and, through Ben-Ami, repeatedly lied about its financial dependence on billionaire George Soros.

Soros claims Israel and its American Jewish supporters — in particular the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the registered U.S. pro-Israel lobby — are primary obstacles to Arab-Israeli peace and expanded influence by Washington in the Middle East.

None of this turns up in Nusseibeh’s review. Neither does the fact that Ben-Ami’s public relations company, Ben-Or, has had as clients the anti-Israel "Elders" led by Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson. Absent too is the indictment by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former head of Reform Jewry in the United States, of J Street’s anti-Israel criticism in the Gaza war as "morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naive." Likewise Rep. Gary Ackerman’s (D-N.Y.) break with the group early this year when he learned J Street had asked the White House not to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israel for building in West Bank Jewish communities.

Nusseibeh parrots Ben-Ami’s claim that "only 8 percent of American Jewish voters support" AIPAC’s political line. To the contrary, a Luntz Global poll done for CAMERA in May revealed single digit support among American Jews for numerous positions taken by J Street and overwhelming backing for policies opposed by the group.

The Post, via Nusseibeh, lets the threadbare pose as avant-garde. J Street supposedly wages an "uphill battle to win the support of America’s Jewish community" and "free American policy sufficiently to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine [Sic.] stalemate." In reality:

* American Jewry, including AIPAC, supported — if in the "trust but verify" mode — the 1993 U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization Declaration of Principles. Final status talks for Palestinian autonomy/statehood were envisioned for 1998. Instead, Palestinian terrorism quickly intensified.

* The United States and Israel offered Palestinian leadership a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, at Camp David in 2000, and again at Taba in 2001. Yasser Arafat and Co., working symbiotically with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, blew up even more buses, taverns, malls, and school cafeterias in the "al-Aqsa intifada." Still U.S. Jewry and AIPAC backed a two-state deal, if Palestinian partners could be found.

* Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated the two-state offer in 2008. Like Arafat before him, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused and made no counter-offer. Neither did he end the PA’s continued anti-Israel incitement, denial of Jewish peoplehood and history in eretz Yisrael, or its incessant tributes to terrorists.

* Rejecting repeated offers by current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to enter direct negotiations, Abbas and the PA implicitly violate U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Israeli-PLO Oslo accords, and the 2003 international "roadmap" by demanding U.N. recognition of "Palestine" outside of required negotiations.

All contrary to the Ben-Ami/Nusseibeh line, spotlighted by The Post.

Who’s the censor?

The Post’s long but superficial "At Theater J, soul-searching as Israel debate intensifies; Peace Café incident illustrates depth of passions," led the August 7 Arts section feature. Staff writer Peter Marks, attempting to explain a controversy among members of the Washington Jewish community over productions staged by the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center’s theater company, parallels the flaws in Nusseibeh’s factually deficient J Street review.

Instead of Jeremy Ben-Ami, self-described fighter for enlightenment on the American Jewish political scene, readers are presented with Theater J artistic director Ari Roth, who, in his own modest assessment, is "fighting for the soul of our community .... enacting dramas, and the subject is the embattled soul of the Jewish people."

Reporter Marks mistakenly claims that "the vitriol has been boiling ever more heatedly into public view as opinions have hardened over Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank. Defenders of Israel’s Likud government are taking their attack to artists whom they consider hostile, especially those they think are sympathetic to or support the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, a six-year-old effort to force political change through economic constraints on Israel."

Criticism of Theater J — like that of Jewish federations around the country for funding agencies whose programs or positions at times have directly or indirectly supported not just critics but enemies of Israel — has nothing to do with partisan Israeli politics or West Bank Jewish settlements. A Washington, D.C. group that calls itself Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art brought Theater J’s program choices to the attention of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which subsidizes the theater company. COPMA charges that some of Roth’s productions echo, if not consciously endorse, anti-Zionist and antisemitic calumnies.

The Post’s Theater J feature omits major self-discrediting acts, foremost the company’s 2009 staged reading of British author Caryl Churchill’s "Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza". This was, as numerous letter writers to the Washington Jewish Week lamented at the time, a 10-minute rant, a contemporary anti-Zionist, antisemitic blood libel.

In a letter to the Jewish weekly, Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek, in suburban Potomac, Md. (now also director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly), wrote, "I find it most disturbing that our local JCC would want to put on a play with such negative portrayals of Israelis and Jews and such harsh judgment. Why not just put on a dramatization of Protocols of the Elders of Zion?"

Roth defended the reading of "Seven Jewish Children," calling it "a means of intellectual protection for the Jewish community .... This is an elusive, evocative, wispy play that has mysteries in it, and we are trying to decode them in a public discussion." He called Churchill a great writer and asserted the script demonstrated "a sense of moral outrage to which it might be unwise for us to cast a blind eye and a deaf ear."

Holocaust survivor, poet and novelist Herman Taube, responding to Roth, stated that "we have some Jews who, you spit in their face, and they say it’s raining .... That’s what happened at the Jewish Community Center."

Roth added two plays described as pro-Israel and a panel discussion to balance "Seven Jewish Children," a decision The Post’s Marks praised in "‘Seven’ Revels In Not Only Acting, but Interacting" (March 27, 2009). But federal administrative law Judge Herbert Grossman, one of those who picketed the performance, insisted that neither of the additional plays rebutted "Seven Jewish Children’s" anti-Jewish slanders.

More conspicuous omissions

The omission of the "Seven Jewish Children" episode from "At Theater J, soul-searching as Israel debate intensifies" is by no means the only hole in the story. Discussing this year’s production of "Return to Haifa," a play by Israeli Boaz Gaon, based on a novella by Ghassan Kanafani, The Post notes that COPMA and others saw it as "virulently anti-Israel." But the paper doesn’t say why: At the heart of the play lies a false equation of Arab aggression with Jewish resistance at Israel’s birth in 1948.

The paper misleadingly describes Kanafani as "a onetime spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was killed by a car bomb in Beirut." The Post doesn’t say that the PFLP was (and remains) a key component of the Palestine Liberation Organization, that it pioneered airliner highjackings, assassinated Palestinian moderates, more recently has carried out suicide bombings and is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. The Post doesn’t say that Kanafani was a top aide to PFLP leader George Habash or that, shortly before he was killed, was photographed in his office with terrorists of the Japanese Red Army. These terrorists, working for the PFLP, had murdered 26 people and wounded 80 others in a May, 1972 assault at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

"At Theater J" suggests an effort by Israel’s Likud Party and its supporters to censor artistic freedom when the article in fact censors relevant facts about the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, about Kanafani and the PFLP, about the Churchill’s "Seven Jewish Children" and more.

As for the BDS movement, it’s part of the Palestinian inspired, international effort to brand Israel as an illegitimate state. The "political change" it means "to force through economic constraints on Israel" are the country’s ouster from world organizations including the United Nations and its ultimate destruction as the world’s one Jewish state. The Post apparently misses BDS’ echoes of the Nazi boycott that impoverished Germany’s Jews preparatory to their annihilation or of the Arab League’s economic boycott of Israel — a boycott outlawed by U.S. statute.

Targeting Elie Wiesel

Both J Street and Theater J stumbled when they came to Elie Wiesel. J Street attacked the author, whose works reanimate in memory the Jewish world destroyed in the Holocaust, for his full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers last year in support of Jewish building in Jerusalem. Theater J, presumably "fighting for the soul of our community," planned to stage "Imagining Madoff," a play by Deborah Margolin about a fictional meeting between embezzler Bernard Madoff and Wiesel. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was Madoff’s most famous victim. Roth backed off after Wiesel termed the play "obscene" and threatened to sue to block production.

This too is absent from The Post’s review of Ben Ami’s book and the paper’s paean to Theater J.

The Post lets Roth declare that the Jewish people "are split and torn, and we ... need to reflect that schism ...." But reflecting more than one side of Jewish schisms is something Theater J rarely does.

Performances spotlighting Palestinian demonization of Jews and celebration of terrorist "martyrs"; reflecting the agony of Sgt. Gilad Shalit, now in his sixth year in a Hamas dungeon in Gaza; of religious Jews successfully reconciling their faith with their places in the modern world; of non-Jews embracing and lapsed Jews returning to what they see as Judaism’s positive values; of Jewish artists grappling with the challenge of defending their people in a world of renewed antisemitism while avoiding politicization of their work, little or none of this is dramatized at Theater J and The Post doesn’t notice. If Theater J can’t find such works, let it commission them. It would be a creative change, one even The Washington Post might recognize.


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