Today is the third anniversary of the murder of Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian activist run over by an IDF bulldozer during an attempted Palestinian home demolition. So James Nicola of the Theater Workshop picked an odd date to make yet another feeble attempt in the NY Times to explain to the world why he reneged on his commitment to produce My Name is Rachel Corrie this month:
In an interview this week James C. Nicola, the workshop’s artistic director, and Lynn Moffat, its managing director, insisted that they wanted only to postpone, not cancel, the show — despite declarations by the authors and the Royal Court Theater, the London troupe that initially produced the award-winning play, that the workshop pulled the plug on a done deal.
I find several things distressing about Nicola’s behavior in this matter. First, he agreed to produce a play about a very controversial subject, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet he seemed utterly unprepared to deal with that subject matter in producing the play. When you’re talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of course you need background, discussion and research in order to carefully frame the discussion. But Nicola, in his protestations makes it seem like the process needed to be a slow, painstaking one before the New York theater community would be “ready” to see such a play. This is ridiculous. I’ve been studying and living this conflict since 1967. Sure it’s complicated. Sure it’s emotional. Sure it treads on difficult terrain. But what subject important to the human race doesn’t? There ARE ways to present such a play to a potentially polarized audience without having riots in the aisles or streets. The fact that Nicola couldn’t seem to envision a way to do this speaks volumes to his inadequacy as a producer of a play about this conflict.
The other disturbing element of his defense is that he won’t tell us who he consulted with about the play, nor will he tell us what they told him. He won’t tell us precisely why these consultations convinced him that he needed to delay the production. Until he is more candid and forthcoming he can have no credibility on this subject. This is what he IS willing to say about this:
Neither Mr. Nicola nor Ms. Moffat…would say exactly who they spoke to before they decided to delay the show. Mr. Nicola originally said that he had spoken to “religious leaders” in making his decision; this week he said that the workshop did a “wide reaching out into the complexity of the community of New York” that included reading Palestinian views on Web sites. Mr. Nicola did say he had had a conversation with one board member who said that his rabbi had concerns about the play. An old friend, who is Jewish, also questioned the play’s message.
Ms. Moffat said that she and Mr. Nicola — who are not Jewish — took advice from members of their in-house artistic staff, as well as “colleagues and colleagues of colleagues.”
He based on his decision on a board member’s rabbi who didn’t like it?? And an “old friend” who “questioned the play’s message?” Wow, that’s a really scientific and compelling survey of opinion on which to base such a decision, now isn’t it? If I consulted someone’s rabbi and an old friend about every post I write here about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I’d never write a damn thing. No wonder Nicola pulled the plug on the show.
How about some more cluelessness:
…how the workshop, an artistically bold and popular company, found itself in such an embarrassing public jam still baffles Mr. Nicola and Ms. Moffat…
If the response to what they did baffles them it only serves to prove their absolute inadequacy as producers of plays about politically-charged material.
I found this passage in the NY Times article especially ironic:
Mr. Nicola said that he read the play in December and was impressed.
“I read what I think the authors intended for me to read, which was that this life, in her own words, was an example to Americans, who are in some fog of avoidance right now,” Mr. Nicola said, adding, “I thought that this, in the voice of this young, pure, innocent woman, was a very powerful thing to say right now.“
Apparently not, if he decided to abandon the play as he did. Or was it just too powerful for his theater to handle??
Meanwhile in January, the political situation in the Middle East intensified after a stroke suffered by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and electoral victories by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group. At the same time, Mr. Nicola said his company’s dramaturge raised some red flags about the symbolism of Ms. Corrie’s tale.
Said Ms. Moffat, “As we went deeper and deeper into it, we discovered what we didn’t know was getting to be too great a burden.”
I’d rephrase this: when they got deeper into it they discovered they were ignorant and clueless. As I’ve already written here before, it is absolutely pathetic to say that Ariel Sharon’s stroke or even the Hamas electoral victory prevents you from mounting this play. When is there not an incendiary incident happening in the Mideast? If you allow such events to immobilize you you will never take a position on anything.
It wasn’t a murder.
Richard Silverstein says
Let’s just call it negligent homicide. This is from Brad Burston in Haaretz:
This passage also argues against your entire argument that Palestinian children are somehow less than innocent victims of Israeli military violence. I only wish you could write as dispassionately and even-handedly about the Israeli contribution to this disaster we call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I read that editorial and agreed with much of it. As I’ve told you, I believe Israeli presence in the territories corrupts Israel and puts it in untenable situations. I disagree with the hindsight blame for Corrie’s death although I don’t want to get into a discussion about her. I don’t consider it homicide either.
But I don’t agree entirely with his premise because, for example, he doesn’t note that after Israel dropped the 1 ton bomb, it never has since. Instead, when they dropped their next bomb, it was 1/2 a ton despite their knowledge that the 3 Hamas leaders they were targeting would definitely be killed with a 1 ton and possibly escape with a 1/2 ton. Why? Because they didn’t want to cause the same type of harm to civilians or children around. This is in line with the IAF commander boasting about how civilian casualties have dropped considerably because of IAF efforts to target better.
As for children being killed, who the hell wants any children killed? But are they targeted? No. Is the IDF careful? Almost always, yes. Are there children who put themselves in dangerous situations at times? Yes. Somebody shouldn’t get shot for throwing a rock, but if a whole bunch of people are throwing rocks to the point where it poses danger to highly trained soldiers with real guns and bullets, something bad might happen. I guess the Israeli soldiers shouldn’t be there…but their presence has affected the number of successful attacks on Israelis. There are also stories about kids using molotov cocktails or, as I have now shown you with links in the other discussion, being used to smuggle arms or bombs or even sent as bombers.
There is a great deal of complexity here and it is not all cut and dry. And again, Israel and the IDF are far from perfect. What I believe, however, is that they are trying very hard to minimize casualties who are not terrorists or militants.
Richard Silverstein says
I don’t believe that Israel or the IDF are entirely evil. I believe that they are capable of making adjustments in their actions due to popular disapproval of previous mistakes. I don’t think we’re that far apart on this aspect of things.
Our difference is mainly that I believe Israel should exit the Territories and end the Occupation right now and that until it does the IDF presence will force Israel to engage in systematic illegal and immoral acts for which I can find little or no defence. You seem to be waiting for some magic sign that Hamas will change its spots, embrace and recognize Israel, and renounce resistance against it before you believe these evils can end. That’s a pretty big difference.
But I’m happy at least that we can agree around the margins.
Actually, I believe the fence should be finished and Israel should move West of the fence regardless of who is governing the Palestinians. So you and I are actually only a few percentage points apart.
Richard Silverstein says
Maybe so, but the devil is in the percentage points, I’m afraid.
Besides, you keep talking about either 2.5% or 8% of Palestinian territory being west of the Wall. But that number does not tell you how many Palestinians live on the “wrong” side of the Wall & thus will be exiled from their own land. It does not tell you how many villages straddle the Wall with one portion on the “right” side and another on the “wrong” side. It does not tell you how many villages lie east of the Wall but have their farm fields west of it. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of Palestinians thus affected. I remember reading a NYT story about Qalqilya which was deeply impacted by this.
Qalqilya happens to be one of the more affected towns, without a doubt. The vast majority of Palestinians will end up East of the fence and as we see in Jerusalem, many of them would like to move West of the fence if they can. I wonder why…
Yes, the fence will impact some villages and some farms, just as it will impact numerous Israelis living in homes and farms as well. The alternative is not to create the fence and to allow the attacks and war to continue. This will save lives on both sides and ultimately may lead to a resolution of the conflict if only because it established a barrier that will also serve as a psychological barrier that may eliminate the dream of taking over all of Israel.
Again, you can’t have an antiseptic war and you can’t expect the peace to please everyone. The Israel Supreme Court essentially ordered the government of Israel to place the fence in such a way that it causes as little harm as possible to Palestinians and their villages. They have rerouted sections of the fence a number of times as a result and have planned the rest of it with these new rules in mind. It’s not perfect, but it is probably the best solution we have seen in a long time.
Richard Silverstein says
Not at all. No man-made Wall can do that. There is no substitute for real peace negotiated between real parties willing to make real compromises. Until that happens your WALL won’t work.
No, the best solution would be a Wall that hugs the Green Line. Then neither the Palestinians nor the world community would have any grounds to object AND it would serve the same purpose. But, oh, I forgot it won’t ensure Israeli domination over settlements that it wishes to retain in perpetuity. So I guess there’s more than security considerations behind it’s erection. Whadaya know? I thought Israel’s motives were pure as driven snow.
Well, uh, it actually goes beyond that. To your first point, I will just say that the fence around Gaza has been fairly effective over the years. In fact, it is primarily when crossings are open that terrorists get through. They are using rockets now and tunneling could be a danger as well, but for the most part, the fence offers security. Furthermore, it’s better than having Israeli troops inside Palestinian centers. Also, until the Palestinians begin to negotiate with some realism, why should Israel wait while they continue to try to play demographic games while continuing with the international political and diplomatic assaults?
As to your point about moving back to the Green Line being the ideal, I think not. We had the Green Line between 1949 and 1967. It created a great deal of insecurity for Israel and Israeli communities near the border. This fence improves that status considerably. As for Israel keeping some settlements near the Green Line, I agree that this is part of the logic, but again, if you can give the Palestinians 90%-97% of the West Bank and with the remaining area secure Jersusalem and other communities while managing to keep 80% of the settlers west of the fence, that’s both a smart short term and long term plan. It’s also relatively fair. As I’ve said before, when somebody gives you 100% of one territory and 90%-97% of the other territory to make peace and give you a state for the first time in history, TAKE IT. If you don’t, you’re signalling that your motives are not to have this land as the final state.
If the Palestinians decide that they want real peace where they accept Israel as a Jewish state, then they will agree to find compromise and they may get some additional land; land in exchange for what they don’t get here; and, some reparations. If they don’t want to accept Israel, then that is their loss. They have made this mistake before in 1937, 1947 and 2000. Every time, they end up further behind than before.
Richard Silverstein says
The Middle: Let’s draw this thread to a close. I’m exhausted & can write much less here at this blog if I keep answering all your propaganda (perhaps your sly intention??).
I am leaving your blog now. You won’t see me here again. The reason is not only that we disagree so much. The reason is that you have continually disparaged what I’ve written as propaganda. Whenever the discussion comes to the point where you feel that it’s become too hairy to respond, or that you have nothing with which to respond, or where you finally get the links you so desire and they make my point, or where there is actual history and documents involved and I bring them up, you dismiss the argument as propaganda.
Well, propaganda it is not.
It’s your blog, enjoy it and your like-minded visitors.
Richard Silverstein says
If you wrote with more nuance & more understanding of the moral and political complexities of the I-P conflict I’d have no problem discussing with you till the cows come home. But your problem (the opposite of Will Roger’s) is you never met a Palestinian you liked and never met an Israeli (except those pesky leftists) you didn’t like. An honest intellectual admits the weaknesses & flaws in their own arguments and the issues they’re debating. I have never said the Palestinians were always right & morally pure. I’ve never even said the Palestinians are more morally correct than the Israelis. You seem to believe that Israel is always right and even if it’s wrong (i.e. in killing civilians) it deserves the benefit of the doubt.
That’s why (again contrary to Rodney King) we’ll never intellectually “get along.”
Hi–I’ve been reading the above articles and the comments with much interest, and felt that I had to respond.
First of all, I wholeheartedly agree that Israel must exit the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem and withdraw their troops and the settlements/settlers now, first of all because the occupied territories don’t belong to Israel, and secondly, it’s for Israel;s longterm and short term survival as a Jewish majority nation-state, which is necessary, given Jewish history.
However, an independent, sovereign-nation state of Palestine, which is run by and for Palestinians, comprised of Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem is also necessary to protect the Palestinian population against political exploitation and furthur brutality either by Israel OR by other Arabs. In other words, they each need their own, independent sovereign nation-state for self-determination.
I also realize, however, that neither side has their hands clean in this whole conflict, either. As horrific as the Israeli occupation of West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, with its demolition of Palestinian homes, and the regular humliation and harsh treatment of the Palestinians, not to mention the maiming/killing of children and innocent civilians is, one also has to recognize that the Palestinians have also historically engaged in horrific acts that go back prior to their being under occupation: Their use of the presently occupied territories as launchinig pads for regular attacls on israel prior to the 1967 war, the rest of the Arab world, including the Palestinians’ refusal to accept the 2-state solution back in 1947-1948 and the Arab countries purposely keeping the Palestinians in refugee camps in order to exploit them for their war on the then newly-formed fledgling state of Israel, and Egypt and Jordan holding the territories for themselves instead of letting the two-state solution emerge, also contributed to the way things are today in the mid-east, as well as the Palestinian terrorists storming of Israeli schools, hijacking of El-Al aircraft for many years, as well as the massacre of Israelli athletes at Munich in 1972 by Black September(PLO) terrorists, and another attempt at that 4 years later at Entebbe, Uganda 4 years later, which was successfully blunted by Israeli commandos, also have a bearing on the way things are. Having said all of the above, I firmly believe that Israel’s longterm occupation of Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem has exacerbated pre-existing hatred of Israel by the rest of the Arab world, and has to be stopped–NOW, and the necessary 2-state solution allowed to emerge.
MOST people who criticize Israel are concerned about Israel’s welfare and well-being and want Israel to survive.
On the subject of Rachel Corrie: It’s unfortunate that this young woman was struck down in the prime of her life, particularly when she had her whole life ahead of her, and her being so young. However, I believe that there was plenty of responsibility for her death to go around
It’s a fact that Israel’s longterm occupation of the above-mentioned territories, with its harsh treatment of the Palestinian civilians, demolition of their homes, the behaviour of soldiers toward civilians at checkpoints, and the appalling behaviour of the rightwing Israelli settlers towards the Palestinians, all created the circumstances that ultimately led to Ms. Corrie’s death in the first place. However, the USA and the West, generally have sort of abetted it by not exerting more pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and to allow the Palestinians to create an independent, sovereign-nation-state for themselves in those territories.
However, (we may well disagree on this) the International Solidarity also has to bear some responsibility for Ms. Corrie’s untimely death. Shortly before Ms. Corrie’s death, several ISM members, including Ms. Corrie herself, had close calls while standing between bulldozers and houses slated for demolition. One woman managed to get out of the way at the last minute when the bulldozer she was attempting to block started to pile earth around and underneath her feet. Another ISM member, a young man, barely escaped being impaled/seriouisly injured by barbed wire surrounding a house he was trying to protect, when the bulldozer stopped at the very last possible moment, and the young man had to be extricated from the barbed wire by ISM members. Ms. Corrie also got shoved into the side of another house she’d been protecting, and predicted that the next time around she might not be so lucky. This prediction very tragically came to pass shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, Ms. Corrie herself did not exercise the best judgement when she decided to supplant herself singly in front of the bulldozer, which, along with the criminally reckless and irresponsible behaviour of the Israelli soldiers driving the bulldozer that fatally mowed Ms. Corrie down, also contributed to the loss of her life. Having said all this, I think that the ISM also should’ve taken a different strategy and had members supplant themselves in front of bulldozers as a GROUP, rather than singly. This strategy probably would’ve made the advent of death/serious injury much less likely, imo.
Regarding the canceling of the play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, no matter what anybody thinks about the whole episode, the pulling of the London production by the New York Theatre Workshop was just plain wrong. Although I would probably choose not to see the play for several reasons, that is censorship in the rawest sense, imo, and a real stifling of free speech, as well as a deprivation of people who DO wish to see the play, of the right to do so, not to mention the right of the producers/actress to host their production My Name is Rachel Corrie in a large USA city like NYC.
When I first heard/read about the cancellation of the play, I was reminded of the cancellation of a stage production of the beautiful and famous musical, West Side Story back in the spring of 1999, which was to be hosted by Amherst Regional High School, in Amherst, MA. A petition which argued that WSS presented a negative stereotype of Puerto Ricans and was signed by some 150 people, circulated around the high school, and, under pressure and duress, school officials and authorities caved in and pulled the production of West Side Story exactly one week prior to its formal rendezvous. However, the people who signed the petition did not represent the entire Latino community out in the Amherst, MA, area, which was, in fact, very divided on the whole issue.
All of the above having been said, I firmly believe that the cancellations of My Name is Rachel Corrie and of the stage production of the musical West Side Story resulted for the same reason: Fear of controversey and discussion. Although there has been a climate of fear and intimidation in our culture for a long time, it’s gotten progressively worse under the present administration in Washington, along with lots of cutbacks in the arts, education, and other things here in many parts of the USA. It’s unfortunate that theatres, schools, and other institutions have succumbed to this type of fear and intimiidation.