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J Street Cancels Poetry Session

After ‘Weekly Standard’ applies pressure

Allison Hoffman
October 19, 2009

Early this morning, progressive Israel lobby J Street announced it was canceling a session on protest poetry scheduled for its big debut conference, which kicks off next Sunday in Washington, because it didn’t approve of the “use and abuse of Holocaust imagery” and other potentially offensive material by the three featured poets—Kevin Coval, Josh Healey, and Tracy Soren—in their work. The decision, made sometime over the weekend, was prompted in part by a blog post by The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb, who linked last week to a YouTube clip of Healey beat-boxing about Israel “writing numbers on the wrists of babies born in the ghetto called Gaza.” “There’s a certain line we weren’t comfortable crossing,” J Street spokesperson Amy Spitalnick told Tablet.

As it happens, the Standard has also been calling around to members of Congress who had signed up to participate in the conference asking about their participation—a factor that inevitably raised J Street’s discomfort level. According to Politico, Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware backed out after receiving a call from the magazine, and his withdrawal was soon followed by other high-profile exits, including New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Theater J artistic director Ari Roth, who was scheduled to moderate the poetry panel, tells Tablet he decided not to argue against the cancellation when J Street called yesterday, while he was watching football. “It’s J Street’s conference, and they have to pick their battles,” said Roth, who was roundly criticized earlier this year for his decision to stage Caryl Churchill’s controversial protest play Seven Jewish Children.

Allison Hoffman is the executive editor of CNN Politics.