Church apologises to rabbi for 'ambush'

By Marcus Dysch, April 1, 2010

A rabbi has received an apology from a church group after the controversial play Seven Jewish Children was performed at the end of a conference discussing Israel and the Palestinians.

Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok was a speaker alongside Palestinian colleague Dawoud El-Alami (they are co-authors of a book on the conflict) at the lecture series The Holy Land: Whose Land Is It? in Ludlow, Shropshire.

The 10-minute play about the history of Israel was written by Caryl Churchill in response to Israel's action in Gaza in January last year. It was performed at the Royal Court Theatre the following month and was derided as antisemitic by critics.

After it is performed, audiences are encouraged to make a donation to the Medical Aid for Palestinians charity.

Prof Cohn-Sherbok, a theologian and lecturer at the University of Wales, claimed the conference's conclusion was "a pro-Palestinian rally".

He said: "Dawoud and I have spoken together for over 10 years. We're often asked to speak and give lectures. Dawoud gives the Palestinian view and I give the Israeli view and we debate it.

"We assumed it would be an educational experience. We gave our presentations and we were asked questions.

"At the end of the day the play was performed. I did not know about the play at all.

"I trusted it would be something neutral - but it was horrific. Not only was it anti-Israeli, but I thought it was antisemitic. We were both ambushed."

Dr El-Alami said: "Seeing that play at that conference can be taken either way. It depends on who you are and how you see the issue.

"For me as a Palestinian the end of the play was too one-sided, too anti-Israeli. At the beginning of the play it was fair, but it went too far at the end."

He said the performance had little effect on the audience and Prof Cohn-Sherbok may have reacted "a bit too sensitively".

Reverend David Roberts, of the Diocese of Hereford, admitted the play should not have been shown.

He said: "The performance of the play added nothing to the day. Its showing was designed from our perspective to show how intractable the situation is for the good people on both sides.

"In the end it was performed by young people with far too much enthusiasm and it would have been better if it had not been shown.

"I wish I had had the opportunity to see the play beforehand because if I had we would not have shown it. It caused Dan a lot of hurt, which we bitterly regret."

Last updated: 12:39pm, April 1 2010