Monthly Archives: July 2013

Federation Influence at Washington Jewish Week Results in Cover Up of Controversy

The Washington Jewish Week was acquired in 2011 by a group of individuals with either current or former leadership positions in the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, DC. It was purchased by David Butler, Allan Fox, Michael Gelman, Stuart Kurlander and Louis Mayberg. Kurlander and Mayberg are still Federation board members. Kurlander, Butler and Gelman are past Federation Presidents. By 2011 this close relationship had generated serious controversy over what was alleged to be The Federation intervening in news coverage to protect itself. The controversy originated with COPMA’s criticism of the Federation for supporting Theater J, which at that time was staging the play Return to Haifa, written by Ghassan Kanafani, a Palestinian writer and a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The current decision to produce The Admission has reignited the controversy. The Editor of the Jewish Week at the time was fired over what some people believed was her decision to run an article criticizing The Federation. This is what Wikipedia says of the controversy:

2011 Controversy

When the long-time editor (since 1999) Debra Rubin was fired on February 23, 2011, some reports questioned whether one underlying issue leading to her discharge was the unwritten policy of the paper to avoid criticism of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, DC — with one unnamed source claiming that the new owners “felt the paper was owned by the federation…and tried to fight any negative reporting on the institution.” The paper’s owners claimed that such criticisms of Federation funding decisions had no bearing on their decision to seek a new editor. They attributed the decision to “creative differences” with Rubin and the owners’ desire to take the paper in “a new direction”.

One issue cited as an example of friction over the issue of Federation support (or non-criticism) was a report by reporter Adam Kredo in a February 17 blog posting that there was “dismay among several federation donors” with that organization’s financial support of Theater J, the theater group associated with the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center. “Theater J” had hosted a production of Return to Haifa, an adaptation of a novella by Palestinian Ghassan Kanafani, which some critics had claimed was “anti-Israel”. On February 22, additional criticism of the federation was posted on the blog because of this theatrical production.

According to reports, the situation at this paper reflected a similar struggle affecting the larger Jewish press: “The firing highlights a struggle for editorial freedom at many Jewish publications. While some of the papers are owned outright by the local federation, even independent publications like Washington Jewish Week encounter difficulties when touching on issues relating to communal institutions.”

Some leaders of the community voiced concern about the possibility that the paper might lose some of its editorial freedom. For example, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, rabbi of the National Synagogue, praised what he considered the “wonderful motivation and intentions” of the new owners, but added that: “they have ended up doing something that ultimately won’t be helpful for the community. I don’t think the community deserves to lose an independent voice that has served as a check on the Federation.”

In 2013 Carol Greenwald, a member of COPMA’s board, was invited by the Editor of the Washington Jewish Week, Phillip Jacobs, to author an Op-Ed piece for The Jewish Week. She submitted the Op-Ed to Mr. Jacobs, and it was approved for publication. The subject of the Op-Ed was the impropriety of The Federation providing monetary support to the DCJCC and Theater J, given their refusal to stop staging anti-Israel theatrical productions. In fact, Mr. Jacobs complimented the Op-Ed and actually gave Ms. Greenwald a publication date.  Within a fairly short period of time the decision to publish the Op-Ed was reversed, ostensibly so that opposing points of view could be obtained and published at the same time. A lengthy delay then ensued. During the period of the delay COPMA drafted and submitted a display ad to be run by the Jewish Week dealing with the same controversy over the Federation’s support of the DCJCC and Theater J. Even though COPMA paid for its political ad to run, The Jewish Week delayed it. No opposing points of view were ever generated. As time went on the reason for further delaying the publication of the Op-Ed morphed into an ostensible desire by The Washington Jewish Week to do a news story on this controversy, in lieu of running the Op-Ed. After a reporter interviewed the Chairman of COPMA, Robert Samet, the editor himself asked for another interview of not only the Chairman, but also several other COPMA members, with the expressed intention to do a story about “Who is COPMA?” COPMA indicated that this controversy is not about COPMA and a news story focusing on “Who is COPMA?” would do nothing more than deflect the attention of readers from the issue of The Federation’s inappropriate support of the DCJCC and Theater J.

The Op-Ed has never run. It was originally scheduled to run on March 28, 2013.

The ad was originally scheduled to run on June 13, 2013, with a request that it be placed in the opening pages of the paper. After complaints that payment had already been made and accepted without COPMA’s ad having been run, it was finally published on Thursday of the 4 day Fourth of July weekend…on page 33. No inquiry was made by The Jewish Week to COPMA asking whether COPMA wanted its ad to run over the holiday weekend. COPMA has since complained to the Editor of The Jewish Week of this unilateral decision to run the ad at a time when it would get minimal attention and has asked that the ad be published again. The Jewish Week replied by returning the ad fee and announcing that it would no longer publish any ads for COPMA.

These are the facts. The reader can arrive at his/her own conclusions about what has taken place here to prevent airing of the controversy over Federation support of the DCJCC and Theater J.