Jewish Theater Company in D.C. Cancels Mideast Festival Under Donor Pressure

The Jewish Community Center where Theatre J is based insists that no supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement be allowed to perform there.

Wikimedia Commons

Theatre J, which operates under the auspices of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, canceled an annual festival following criticism by donors and funders against the showing of controversial Israeli plays.

The Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival has been removed from the theater’s upcoming calendar, the daily Forward reported.

Festival organizers had been asked to accept a rigorous vetting process of the artists, according to the Forward. Theatre J’s artistic director, Ari Roth, proposed alternatives to distance the theater from the Greater Washington JCC, including making the festival an independent organization, but eventually they were all rejected.

“We find the culture of open discourse and dissent within our Jewish Community Center to be evaporating,” Roth said, according to an internal document obtained by The Forward. “Increasingly, Theatre J is being kept from programming as freely, as fiercely, and expressing itself as fully as it needs.”

The JCC insists that no supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement be allowed to perform there but says it does not censure or review the plays put on by Theatre J.

At the most recent festival, in the early spring, Theatre J changed its plans to put on Israeli playwright Motti Lerner’s “The Admission” and staged it instead as a reading and discussion following an intense campaign to stop the JCC from funding what protesters considered an anti-Israeli play. The play dealt with the expulsion of Arabs from their village during Israel’s 1948 War for Independence.