Council refuses to fund festival for showing Seven Jewish Children

By Leon Symons, May 21, 2009

A new row has broken out in Liverpool over a performance of the play Seven Jewish Children during an annual May literary festival.

Its showing at the Writing On The Wall (WOTW) festival has led Liverpool City Council to refuse the event’s organisers any more funding. The council’s regeneration and culture select committee has given WOTW £9,000 a year for two years.

Committee chair Cllr Eddie Clein, who is Jewish, said this week: “A couple of Jewish activists emailed me about this and then I was asked a question during an event at Harold House (Liverpool’s Jewish community centre).

“I didn’t know they had a two-year contract worth £9,000 a year to put on ‘thought-provoking’ material. I told them we were not happy because the play had already been performed in London and they should have been more acutely aware that the material was at the least insensitive and could have been profoundly disturbing to Jewish people.”

Cllr Clein said the council sought legal advice to find out whether or not it could stop the play being performed but decided not to take any action “because they had not breached any laws. But I told the festival people that we were not happy and we would not give them funding after this year. The action on which we decided — the ‘softly-softly’ approach — was supported by all seven Jewish councillors, who were all brought into the discussions.”

As part of this approach, WOTW had been asked to consider showing Seven Other Children, written by Richard Stirling as a response to the play by Caryl Churchill.

But this was turned down because, according to festival development co-ordinator Madeline Heneghan, “the festival programme is planned months in advance and the festival trustees feel the request is unrealistic at this point in our annual cycle”.

Ms Heneghan made the comment in an email exchange with Liverpool Council of Christians and Jews chair Joan Fletcher, who had complained about the one-sided nature of the evening.

The festival offered Ms Fletcher a place on a panel discussion after the performance, but she refused, explaining that while CCJ dealt with antisemitism it did not deal with advocacy for Israel, which was, she felt, what was lacking from the panel. Ms Fletcher said the programme “was clearly biased against Israel”.

Last updated: 3:01pm, February 18 2011