Poet booted from J Street meet for comparing Guantanamo to Auschwitz
Poet Josh Healey to J Street: If you're trying to be an alternative to AIPAC - don't behave like AIPAC.
Five days ahead of the leftist pro-Israeli lobby J Street's first National Conference in Washington, D.C., the controversies continue to mount. The Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren refuses to attend the conference, despite the open letter issued by the organization's Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami; but over the weekend the lobby took one more step to appease critics.
The poetry session, featuring three artists - Kevin Coval, Tracy Soren and Josh Healey, scheduled as part of the "Culture as a Tool for Change" track, was canceled. Apparently, the event was nixed following a reminder by a conservative blogger that Healey, a Jewish activist and poet, compared Guantanamo prison to Auschwitz.
J-Street's Ben-Ami issued the following explanation: "As a matter of principle, J Street respects the dissenting voice that poetry can represent in society and politics. We acknowledge that expression and language are used differently in the arts and artistic expression when compared to their use in political argumentation. Nevertheless, as J Street is critical of the use and abuse of Holocaust imagery and metaphors by politicians and pundits on the right, it would be inappropriate for us to feature poets at our Conference whose poetry has used such imagery in the past and might also be offensive to some conference participants."
In an interview with Haaretz, Josh Healey didn't conceal his disappointment. "I had a conversation with 'J Street' staff, and they explained that they are playing the game - Washington politics, and seeking legitimacy. And they are not willing to fight this battle. I was born in Washington, so I'm not surprised to become Van Jones of J Street," (U.S. President Barack Obama's "green jobs czar" who resigned over the controversy about his past political associations).
"So Van Jones resigned, but did the right wing stop attacking Obama? On one level, I understand them - it's easier to get rid of the poet, who cares? But as an artist and a Jewish activist, it's a matter of principle. If you're trying to be an alternative to AIPAC - don't behave like AIPAC."
"I told them I don't think it's the legitimacy they want, because it's not the legitimacy that makes change. When you're trying to make change, you must expect that some people will push back. But they kick out their allies - and I still consider myself an ally. I'm not personally offended - I'm politically disappointed. It's ironic that we were invited to perform and be a part of the dialogue at the track 'The culture as a tool for change.' But we can't even have this dialogue. The Jewish community acts like children, with smear campaigns and name-calling. I am not surprised by the right wing attacks - but that J-Street went along with it and accommodated it."
Referring to the specific line which stirred the negative emotions, Healey said: "It was taken of context. Judged by themselves, these lines don't even make sense. Just before this line, I wrote: 'I remember when the German soldiers put yellow stars on my family coats and they put pink ones on my friends.' I was talking about de-humanization. And yes, I have family that was killed in the Holocaust. There were Jewish people killed and gay people and Gypsies, and many others, and as a Jew, my solidarity is with my people - and with all people. And my solidarity is with the people of Israel - but also with the people of Palestine. And I believe in two state solution and peace and justice for all people. And if J-Street are not willing to have debate with people who believe in solidarity and humanity, I don't know what legitimacy they want, because it's not a moral legitimacy."
"I love my people, the Jewish people, and that's why I'm critical - because it's my people, my family that are silencing people the same way we were silenced and suppressed for centuries," Healey concluded.