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spacer.gif   Chicago Poet Kevin Coval Banned From Jewish Conference
Posted by : cj on Friday, October 23, 2009 - 12:34 PM
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Chicago Poetry News: Click On Headlines .
Poetry Dateline: 10/23/09

On the weekend of October 24, 2009, J Street, a new Jewish, Washington-based organization, held its first national conference. Chicago poet Kevin Coval, and "Queer Intifada" poet Josh Healey, both of whom are Jewish, were invited and scheduled to perform poetry at the conference and to lead a workshop on "how culture and spoken word create democratic spaces that sift through difficult issues and ensure a multiplicity of voices are heard."

After learning that, what he deemed to be, "protest poetry" would be included in the conference, a neo-conservative, right wing pundit named Michael Goldfart spouted off at the blog The Weekly Standard, calling the poetry reading an "anti-Israel poetry slam" and complaining that one of the poets "compared Guantanamo prison to Auschwitz." Other right wing bloggers chimed in, calling these two young Jewish men "hateful anti-Israeli poets" and a series of slanderous email blasts that attacked the poets' reputations followed.

Buckling under the pressure, J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami caved in, saying "I know what I'm doing is wrong, but there are some battles we choose not to fight," as he blacklisted the poets from the conference, explicitly for "the use and abuse of Holocaust imagery and metaphors." The following lines of poetry, written by Josh Healey, were singled out as the offensive material:

we call ourselves the chosen people
but I'm asking chosen for what?
chosen to recreate our own history
merely reversing the roles
with the script now reading that
we're the ones 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 said.

Coval and Healy responded with an open letter, accusing the conference of practicing McCarthyism and using Healy as a "straw man". They point out that they are simply "practicing the Jewish maxim of the refusal to be silent in the face of oppression, anyone's oppression."

This is the second time this year that Coval has been banned from a Jewish event. This past August, the evening before the International Hillel Conference, conference planners informed Kevin Coval that if he was planning to read poems about Palestine, they'd "rather not have him," despite the fact that Coval works for Hillel. "The radical right-wing, including the growing Jewish right-wing of this country and abroad, hates complex discourse, especially when it brings to light truths they seek to systematically deny," says Coval.

Both poets read in an alternative event at Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St, NW, Washington, DC, on Sunday October 25 at 4 PM, where they shared their poems and dialogue about Israel, Palestine, identity, justice, and free speech. No longer part of the J Street gathering, they made the event "open to the entire community: conference attendees, artists, activists, youth, elders, Jews, Palestinians, gentiles, and anyone down to build."

--Story by CJ Laity

(Please link to this story. Thank you.)

Note: After learning that, what he deemed to be, "protest poetry" would be included in the conference, a neo-conservative, right wing pundit named Michael Goldfart spouted off at the blog The Weekly Standard, calling Kevin Coval's poetry reading an "anti-Israel poetry slam" . . .

 
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