On The Necessity of Insubordination – An Open Letter

On The Necessity of Insubordination — An Open Letter to the American Jewish and Arts Communities

As members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Artist and Cultural Workers Council, we were outraged to learn that the DC Jewish Community Center decided to fire Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J, for one reason: his commitment to explore the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel through theater.  

This follows a deeply disturbing, and increasingly common, trend toward censorship in the American Jewish community. When arts organizations cave to political pressure from funders, it is bad for the Jewish community, bad for the arts, and bad for everyone.

Earlier this year, the DC JCC cancelled a performance of The Shondes, citing the bandŠ__s support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement as the reason for the revocation. A few years ago, the Oakland ChildrenŠ__s Museum of Art decided to cancel an exhibit of Palestinian childrenŠ__s art. This October, a small but vocal group tried (unsuccessfully) to force the Metropolitan Opera to cancel the performance The Death of Klinghoffer.

In light of this troubling trend, and in the spirit of socially conscious Jewish artists throughout the world and throughout history, we call on arts institutions to recommit to plurality. We implore Jewish Americans to resist the muzzling of cultural and artistic expression.

The Board of the DC Jewish Community Center described Roth as Š__insubordinateŠ__ for his commitment to his curatorial choices and his refusal to stay quiet about the censorship of a play that deals with the Palestinian Nakba. Should our theater, our rock music, our visual art, and our opera strip itself of defiance, of vision, of provocation? Should our art obey orders? Whose orders?

The American Jewish communityŠ__s narrative on Israel and Palestine is an evolving tapestry, hewn through struggle & dissent Š__ a constant, dynamic questioning of the ways that we express our core values. Funders who shut down open artistic expression are terrified of the truth that might break through, the resistance that might break out, should we be allowed to witness art made by Palestinian children, to hear histories that counter the Israeli nationalist version, and to engage with cultural work that challenges our understandings.

Artists must not be censored. The arts have a critical role to play in helping us grapple with the crucial moral and political issues facing our communities. We call on the American Jewish community to recognize and celebrate artistic expressions of the multiplicity of Jewish opinion and experiences. Let us lift up the insubordinate among us: itŠ__s these voices we desperately need.

Sincerely,

The Jewish Voice for Peace Artist Council 

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