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American institute buckles under pressure, cancels Balfour event

October 12, 2017 at 2:34 am

Lord Arthur James Balfour, former Prime Minister of the UK [George Grantham Bain/Wikipedia]

A Jewish institution has caved in to pressure from pro-Israel activists and Zionist groups by cancelling an event about the Balfour Declaration.

The American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) in New York and the Centre for Jewish History (CJH) were set to host an event later this month by human rights activists, lawyers and Jewish artists in commemoration of the Balfour Declaration.

However, AJHS announced on Monday that it was cancelling the event that had been sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP): “After further consideration the American Jewish Historical Society is cancelling the Balfour Program scheduled for October 26th and the dramatic reading of “Rubble, Rubble,” scheduled for December 14th. While the programmes themselves may have merit, they do not align with the mission of the AJHS”.

A campaign by Ronn Torossian, founder and CEO of 5WPR, which describes itself as “a leading PR Firm in New York and one of the 20 largest independently owned agencies in the United States,” is thought to be behind the cancellation of the event. Torossian is said to be leading a larger campaign around the CJH’s new head, David Myers, CEO of JVP and a scholar of Jewish history.

Other pro-Israeli organisations have also taken credit for the cancellation. In a press release yesterday the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) said that it was “a small victory, which was “likely resulting from efforts by bi-partisan pro-Israel activists, including the ZOA”.

Read Israeli embassy accused of pressuring UK university to censor free speech

The decision to cancel the event has been widely criticised. Naomi Dann, media co-ordinator of JVP, sent a written statement to MEMO in which she said that JVP “are saddened by the cancellation of [our] event on the history of the Balfour Declaration, and the cancellation of Dan Fishback’s play Rubble Rubble. It is a shame that institutions cave to pressure from right wing donors and columnists and shut down complex conversations about Israel, Zionism and Palestinian rights. We won’t be silenced. We will find and build other spaces to have these important conversations”.

In his comments over the cancellation of his play about a Jewish family in conflict over Israel “Rubble Rubble,”  Dan Fishback wrote on his Facebook page: “”Rubble Rubble” was being cancelled by The American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) because of [my] support of the non-violent movement for Palestinian human rights”.

“After planning it for over a year we lost a budget, a venue, and the resources of a large institution,” Fishback went on to complain. The playwright also announced that he was raising money to hold the performance elsewhere, no matter what. “We will not be silenced by reactionary forces,” he added.

Other members of the Jewish community have reacted with equal disgust, describing the cancellation as a “big mistake”.

“Cancelling this event shows how out of touch moneyed interests are with growing numbers of Jews, especially young Jews, who want our institutions to reflect our concerns, values, and politics,” said Lan Apovitz from JVP.