Ellen Stewart, of La Mama, in 2006.(NYT)

I have more than a few bad traits, but I don’t think hotheadedness is one of them. A decade of reporting and writing about Jews—not to mention the two and half decades before that living as one—has thickened my skin enough that I don’t generally overreact to stupidity or misguidedness, either when it is perpetrated by my co-religionists or when it is directed at them. But in the annals of recent toxic lunacy, a call to boycott the La MaMa Theater for hosting a gala to raise money for an Israeli Dance Week takes home first prize. Let me say this as plainly as I can, before the throbbing veins in my neck burst: Boycotting is stupid; singling out Israel for boycotting is unjust; and boycotting artists is, among a host of other bad things, incredibly tacky. But boycotting La MaMa—the experimental theater in New York that, guided by the incomparable and dear departed Ellen Stewart, became a once-in-a-generation haven of internationalism and cultural freedom—is just nuts.

The call was issued on the Dance Insider’s Website by Paul Ben-Itzak, a writer whose alter egos include “DJ Yo Mama,” on January 13 — the very day that Stewart died. (I’m going to believe this is a coincidence—that Ben-Itzak did not intentionally attack the theater on the day it lost its patron saint—mainly because to believe otherwise would cause a depression that not even hours of videos of cats hugging their teddy bears could alleviate.)

Ben-Itzak argued that the “net effect [of La MaMa’s participation] will be to help whitewash Israel’s ongoing Apartheid policies, destruction of Palestinian homes and olive orchards, theft of Palestinian land, failure to take any responsibility for what a UN investigation deemed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in its invasion of the Gaza strip in which it killed 1400 people, the majority civlians [sic], lethal attack on the Turkish flotilla attempting to break Israel’s illegal Gaza blockade of vital goods, denying Palestinians married to Israelis the right to even enter the country, new restrictions on Israeli peace groups, and, most recently, killing a Palestinian woman who was simply watching a demonstration against Israel’s illegal Apartheid wall with American-manufactured tear gas.”

Read that again. This man just blamed an experimental avant-garde theater on East Fourth and the Bowery for the Middle East conflict.

Listen to me, Paul: There was only one La MaMa, and Yo Mama doesn’t deserve to be in the same blogpost as her. But I will put you here, in the hopes that her spiritual presence somehow shames you into admitting your mistake. As for everyone else: Do you care about—oh, take your pick: Israel? New York City? Ellen Stewart? dance? artistic freedom? justice? truth? anything? Then I urge you to support La Mama against this effort. (One way is to donate here.)

And now, in celebration of Mr. Ben-Itzak’s stupendous feeble-mindedness, I think a Yo Mama joke-off is in order. Winner not only gets a Nextbook Press book of choice; I will formally make my donation to La MaMa in his or her honor. Here, I’ll start us off easy: “Yo Mama is so stupid he thought he could get away with this bullshit.” Your turn.

Say It Ain’t So (La) MaMa [Dance Insider]
Ellen Stewart, Off Off Broadway Pioneer, Dies at 91 [NYT]