By Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark
Culture is the arena through which collective memory is created and sustained, and that’s why it’s often so disputatious. Among the most powerful of these collective memories is the Zionist narrative of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, which presents Zionist conduct as pure and always justifiable. And that’s why the Palestinian counter-narrative of that war, the Nakba, remains so threatening, especially when the righteousness of Zionist actions are challenged, and maybe most especially when Jewish Israelis themselves raise the challenge.
One of the most controversial of these is the claim that Israeli soldiers massacred many Palestinian civilians and expelled others before razing the Palestinian village of Tantura in late-May, 1948. The controversy over what happened in Tantura (fictionalized as Tantur) lies at the heart of a new play by the Jewish Israeli playwright Motti Lerner called The Admission.
Washington DC’s Theater J had scheduled the play for a 34-performance, full production this spring, but came immediately under fire from an ad hoc group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA). Claiming that the play focuses on “a vicious lie about Israel” COPMA called on “donors to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to withdraw their funding from the Federation unless it ceased its support for the Washington DCJCC” (which supports Theater J).
The theater has now reduced the production to a 16 week “workshop” run in proposed repertory with “Golda’s Balcony.” Golda’s Balcony, which starred Telva Feldshuh in a 2003 Broadway production, is a hagiographic tribute to Golda Meier and the Israeli state during the1973 war.
COPMA has been gunning for Theater J for some time, often attacking the works brought over in an annual series called “Voices from a Changing Middle East,” such as the Jewish Israeli playwright, Boaz Gaon’s, adaptation of Return to Haifa, from the novella by Ghassan Kanafani, which was presented at Theater J in 2011, after a successful run at Tel Aviv’s most prominent theater, the Cameri. For COPMA, these are “theatrical productions that attack and defame Israel.” (In Washington, it was a critical and box office hit.)