A Narrow and Hateful Assault on a Complex Play About Israel

  • by:
    • Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
  • July 11, 2017

Anti-Israel activists are at it again — this time trying to stop Lincoln Center from running a play based on a book written by a prizewinning Jewish and Israeli novelist, who happens to be one of that country's biggest proponents of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

This week, Adalah-NY: the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel released a letter signed by dozens of actors and writers and Palestinian theater companies — a few well-known, others mostly not -calling on the well-respected Lincoln Center Festival to cancel its four-day run of “To the End of the Land,” a play based on the acclaimed novel by Man Booker Prize-winning novelist David Grossman and set to open July 24.

The reason? The play is being presented “with the support of” Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in North America, whose goal, they claim, is to promote artistic propaganda that diverts attention from a long list of alleged Israeli crimes and aggressions.

Blinded by animus toward the Jewish state, these letter writers apparently didn’t take the time to actually read Grossman’s poignant, emotional and beautiful novel. If they had, they would have known that “To the End of the Land” takes on Israel’s problems and deficiencies head on. Amid a riveting story of family and friendship that plays out on the physically breathtaking Israel National Trail, the book deals with Israeli-Arab relations, military brutality, the societal cost of the decades-long conflict and militarization, and, yes, the treatment of the Palestinians.

There is no whitewashing, no positive branding, and no presentation of Israel as nirvana of tranquility and peace. It goes much deeper than the Israel you might see in a tourism ad or read about in the daily paper. It shows a country full of complicated, very human characters, with complex life stories and complicated relationships with their beloved homeland.

So why does Adalah-NY not want New Yorkers to experience this play? And why would the theatrical signatories to their letter — who, I hazard to guess, strongly support government funding of the arts and are outraged by the Trump Administration’s plans to scale it back — protest so vigorously against Israeli government funding of the theater?

Perhaps the answer is that Adalah and their ilk don’t want you to know the real Israel: the beauty, the thoughtfulness, the humanity and yes, the messy, flawed, complexities. While they allege that the Israeli government is funding this production so as to hoodwink us and present a false “Israel the good,” Adalah wants you to see only “Israel the bad.” And that means trying to prevent New Yorkers from experiencing a play that might present an Israel that is more than the one-dimensional, malevolent force they claim.

When you reject a piece of art based solely on its national origin and when you try to prevent others from enjoying it and drawing their own conclusions, that isn’t a political statement. It’s prejudice, plain and simple.

Lincoln Center Festival deserves praise for rejecting this campaign outright, and standing up for artistic freedom — and for their commitment to bringing a range of perspectives, voices and ideas to their stage. Before the play opens, here’s an idea: Why don’t those actors and writers who signed this letter sit down and read Grossman’s gripping book?

Why don’t they meet with the actors of the Ha’bima National Theatre and Cameri Theater while they are performing here and engage with their Israeli peers for an honest exchange of views?

Or better yet, why don’t they buy a ticket and go see “To the End of the Land”?

I imagine these activists won’t do any of these things. In the process, they are putting their own biases and hatreds center stage.

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