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Where Do America’s Jewish Federations Draw The ‘Red Line’ On Opinions About Israel?

Richard Allen (center), head of JCC Watch, holds a burning check at a rally on Sept. 12 during which his group as well as Americans for a Safe Israel urged the cessation of Jewish donations to the UJA-Federation of New York, due to federation's lack of funding guidelines on Israel. (Credit: JCC Watch/AFSI)

Richard Allen (center), head of JCC Watch, holds a burning check at a rally on Sept. 12 during which his group as well as Americans for a Safe Israel urged the cessation of Jewish donations to the UJA-Federation of New York, due to federation's lack of funding guidelines on Israel. (Credit: JCC Watch/AFSI)

“We have a pattern of forces within the UJA-Federation diverting charitable dollars to further political purposes, and these purposes are anti-Israel,” said Richard Allen, head of JCC Watch.

When a UJA donor and volunteer told Allen at the protest that the funding in question is “only a small part” of the federation’s budget, Allen said he replied, “Even if it’s one penny, it’s wrong, and it makes the whole organization basically treif.”

The UJA-Federation did not return a request for a comment for this article.

Washington, DC: Like JCC Watch, Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA) is calling for a halt to donations to its local federation, citing the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s funding of the Washington Jewish Community Center’s Theater J.

COPMA was formed in 2009 as a response to Theater J’s work on “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” a series of short plays in which parents repeat anti-Israel narratives while mulling how to speak to children about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One actor advises a parent not to tell a child that “Arabs used to sleep in her bedroom.”

Robert G. Samet, COPMA’s chairman, said his group does not intend to impede artistic freedom, but rather specifically opposes the federation’s support of Theater J.

“It’s just, don’t do it on our nickel,” Samet told JNS. “Don’t do it on [federation] contributors’ support; it’s not appropriate. It’s a fringe view that’s being supported by mainstream contributors.”

In an Aug. 26 letter to the DC federation, Robert Levi, chairman of the board of the National Council of Young Israel, joined COPMA’s call for the discontinuation of federation support for Theater J, due to the theater group’s planned performance of Motti Lerner’s “The Admission” from March 20-April 27, 2014.

“As you may be aware, [‘The Admission’] reflects a neo-anti-Israeli perspective, which is contrary to the mission of the Federation,” Levi wrote. “The climatic scene of play implies a fictitious 1948 massacre conducted by a colonel in the Israeli defense brigade. You may not be aware that many of Mr. Lerner’s dramas are not performed in Israel due to their harmful message.”

Last week, the federation responded to COPMA with an “open letter to our community.”

“Love of Israel and openness to a diverse array of thought are compatible goals,” the federation’s letter stated.

Ari Roth, artistic director of Theater J, said that “The Admission” is all based on “actual research done by three historians,” rather than implying the “fictitious 1948 massacre” that Young Israel’s Levi described in his letter. “The Admission” was also featured in an April 2013 workshop that was underwritten by the Israeli Consulate of New York, which Roth called an Israeli “hechsher” on the play.

COPMA does not acknowledge Theater J’s slate of more than 35 plays and workshops relating to Israel over the last 16 years, said Roth, who cited, among other plays the group has performed, “Dai” (“Enough”), which details the experiences of 14 different Israelis in the moments before a suicide bombing.

Theater J also never actually produced “Seven Jewish Children,” explained Roth. Instead, the group held a “critical dissection” of the play, featuring readings of “Seven Jewish Children” and response plays, as well as a talk to start the event that included “what troubled me about the play,” Roth said.

The DC federation, in an April 2011 statement, said it would not fund “any organization that encourages boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel in pursuit of goals to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.” Theater J “stands squarely” against the BDS movement, Roth told JNS.

“We are all about bringing Israeli art over here, engaging with Israel,” he said. “We are a leading importer of Israeli cultural talent to Washington.”

In its letter on COPMA last week, the federation said it was not its job to meddle in the “autonomous decision making” of its partner agencies or to “single out a few programs from the thousands we support that may make some uneasy.”

Samet, chairman of COPMA, said it was “only with great reluctance that we went to a mass e-mail campaign urging people to suspend or terminate contributions until such time as [the] federation does something about [the Theater J issue].” But the federation ultimately crossed COPMA’s red line.

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