UPDATE: As of March 16 JW3 has closed indefinitely because of Corona so the meeting unlikely to take place
Culture wars meeting for JC March 5 2020 by Jenni Frazer
An urgent meeting to discuss the future of Anglo-Jewish cultural institutions — and their funding — has been called by three British Jewish academics.
The meeting, set to take place at JW3 on March 31, has been convened in the wake of the apparent demise of the Jewish Quarterly magazine, which collapsed last summer with the departure of its editor, D D Guttenplan, and a row over the political content of the content he published. There is also serious concern about the future of the Jewish Museum.
The three academics — Nathan Abrams, Bryan Cheyette and Keith Kahn-Harris — have refused to comment publicly on the potential discussions at the JW3 meeting. But their original invitation, a copy of which has been seen by the JC, says that the decision to hold the meeting arose out of “online discussions that revealed an unease amongst Jewish academics and ‘intellectuals’ regarding the distance between academia and the Jewish community”.
Insiders say the alleged split is to do with a perception that the “money men” — the main funders of cultural institutions — are moving away from supporting arts and humanities. David Herman, a writer and journalist who was formerly on the board of the Jewish Quarterly and resigned after Mr Guttenplan was first fired and then re-hired, says there is “a worrying, growing divide between intellectuals, academics, and funders”.
Mr Herman, who has been invited to take part in the forum, said: “There is a definite political sub-text to this. It is no coincidence that the three academics who have convened the meeting all work in the humanities. There is a feeling that the funders in the organised Jewish community are not interested in what they have to say. The funders are, by and large, business people. Academics, for the most part, are left of centre; and, in addition, there is concern about the future funding of cultural institutions”.
Last month, the director of the Jewish Museum since 2012, Abigail Morris, stood down and the museum withdrew from the National Portfolio Organisation of the Arts Council. The NPO asked the museum to take two months to come up with an alternative business model. Its present method of funding, relying heavily on communal philanthropy, was said to be unsustainable.
It is understood that representatives of the Board of Deputies, directors and members of Jewish studies centres at universities, the British and European Associations for Jewish Studies, and cultural organisations including Jewish Book Week and the Ben Uri Gallery, have been invited. A spokesman for the Board, confirming the invitation, said its representatives were keen to listen to the views being aired.
The organisers, who insist that no press will be allowed to attend, say they want to have “a safe space” for their deliberations and hope that it is the start of a dialogue which could be continued in synagogues, on campuses and at Limmud.