“My neighbors and family members, they all knew about the massacre; some of them participated in it,” Lerner said. “They were there and they saw it. This was not talked about frequently, but it was mentioned.” His interest in writing about it was kindled several years ago, he said, after a controversy erupted in Israel over a student at Haifa University whose thesis on the events of Tantura was rejected and who was subsequently sued by some of the surviving soldiers.
Samet, interviewed Wednesday in a Rockville coffee shop, described COPMA as a small group of volunteers with no paid staff and said that neither the Federation nor the DCJCC communicates with his group. COPMA has posted the first act of “The Admission” on its Web site; Samet, who was not aware of Theater J’s modified plans as of Wednesday afternoon, said he has not read the second act because he has not been able to obtain an English translation.
“We knew enough from the first act and from Ari Roth’s statements what the play is about,” Samet said. He insisted that any suggestion of an Israeli massacre at Tantura constitutes a “blood libel.”
Samet’s group charges that “The Admission” feeds into anti-Israel sentiments and that it is inappropriate for an institution devoted to support of the Jewish state to sponsor the work. The group argues that it provides comfort for those in the “BDS” movement that advocates boycotts, divestiture and sanctions against Israel.
While the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington issued a statement rejecting the BDS movement in April 2011, it has expressed solidarity with Theater J’s decision to produce “The Admission.”
Referring to the actions of agencies it finances, the Federation declared in its September open letter, “It is not our job to meddle in their autonomous decision making, or to single out a few programs from the thousands we support that may make some uneasy.”
The downshift to a workshop, Zawatsky said, will be a “unique and very special experience. We are really pleased to be able to show ‘The Admission’ in a workshop format in a similar way to what’s been done in Israel,” she said. “We are thinking that giving the audience an opportunity to see a work of art that is being incubated in this wonderful place gives you a chance to be part of the conversation with the artist.”
Lerner says his mission was to try to mend rifts, not widen them. “The play,” he said in an e-mail circulated by Roth, “is trying to suggest that these historical memories have to be explored and revised continuously in order to create a solid basis for reconciliation between the two people.”