Three poets whose appearances were canceled at next week’s J Street conference in Washington aren’t happy about the situation—and they’re making sure people know it. The cancellation came last weekend, after Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb kicked up conservative ire over some of the poets’ work.
“If you’re trying to be an alternative to AIPAC, don’t behave like AIPAC,” poet Josh Healey, who was targeted by Goldfarb for comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, told Haaretz in an interview. Healey and his colleague Kevin Coval, who was criticized for comparing Israel to a whore, issued a long statement accusing J Street’s leadership of “caving in” to what they described as a McCarthyite witch hunt. (J Street officials explained on Monday that they were concerned about crossing the line between being provocative and offensive.)
Meanwhile, Tracy Soren—at 22, the youngest of the three, and just beginning her career as a professional poet—contacted Tablet Magazine to say she was surprised to have been caught up in the whole episode. “I’m not pleased with how this has gone,” said Soren in an interview, who focuses on sexual politics in her poetry and had planned to read a piece about an American trying to understand her Israeli lover’s experience on the battlefield. “I do feel [J Street] went along with the political right, and even though they have to choose their battles, I’m not surprised poetry was the first thing that got cut.”
Soren, who said she was active in her B’nai B’rith youth group as a high-schooler in Queens, added that she’d decided to skip the conference, even though organizers had assured her she was still welcome to attend. “The real issue here is that there’s no space for discussion,” Soren said. “Judaism teaches us to question things, and this was supposed to be a forum to question the conflict and not be called bad Jews. What I’m hoping comes out of this is that those who have been opposing what I was going to say see the peace within it, and that it’s more pro-Israel and pro-humanity than anything else.”
The poetry session will be replaced with a program of excerpts from productions staged by Theater J, a program run by the Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C. Theater director Ari Roth, who was slated to moderate the poetry session, told Tablet he has proposed staging excerpts from four plays: David Hare’s 2000 play Via Dolorosa; Hare’s monologue Wall, published earlier this year in the New York Review of Books and performed at New York’s Public Theater; Motti Lerner’s Pangs of the Messiah; and Hillel Mitelpunkt’s The Accident.