PSC play at Polish Centre sparks angry demo

Polish Embassy distances itself from controversial staging of play

By Jessica Elgot, December 9, 2010
Two demonstrators light Chanucah candles outside the Polish Centre

Two demonstrators light Chanucah candles outside the Polish Centre

Community leaders have accused the Palestine Solidarity Campaign of sabotaging Polish-Jewish relations by staging Seven Jewish Children at the Polish Centre in Hammersmith.

The Caryl Churchill play, originally staged at the Royal Court immediately after the Gaza offensive in 2009, was denounced by many critics as antisemitic.

A determined group of protesters, organised by the Zionist Federation co-vice-chair Jonathan Hoffman, gathered outside the the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) in Hammersmith where the PSC staged a version of the play, as part of a night of fundraising.

The ten protesters lit Chanucah candles and shouted: "Shame on the Polish centre for hosting an anti-Jewish play."

Filip Slipaczek, of the Institute of Polish Jewish Studies, said he believed the venue was deliberately chosen by the organisers to provoke conflict between the Jewish and Polish communities.

Why put on such a play at the Polish Centre?

He said: "As a Pole I consider the staging of the play, written neither by a Pole nor a Jew, to be totally inappropriate for such a venue.

"However, I am severely worried that concerns about the play could inflame old animosities between our two communities and sabotage the ever improving relations we have."

The Polish Embassy distanced itself from the play and its message.

Robert Szaniawski, spokesman for the embassy, said: "Although the venue is independent, we fully understand that this play is very controversial, particularly for Jewish people.

"The Polish-Jewish relationship is worth a lot, and we are trying to keep building bridges.

"We do not think it is right to risk any sparks, particularly concerning the situation in the Middle East. We have sensitive relations and we should care more about Jewish attitudes."

At the demonstration, Mr Hoffman said: "I would ask the Polish Centre if they would be ready to host a performance by the British National Party or English Defence League. The venue should be mindful of having this kind of play here."

But Bart Novak, manager of the Polish Centre, said that although he had received complaints, the arrangement was purely commercial.

He said: "Tonight's performance is a private one, the organisers having hired the theatre. We regret any offence that might be caused by this play being staged in the theatre.

However, POSK has always been a symbol of free speech, in particular during the dark years after the war when Poland was under Communist rule and free speech was expressly forbidden."

A Board of Deputies spokesman said: "Despite the Polish Centre's unfortunate lack of familiarity with this notoriously antisemitic play, the only acceptable action would have been, albeit at short notice, to cancel the viewing."

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy said: "Eyebrows were raised in the Embassy at the insistence of the Polish Cultural Centre in putting on such a play."

Last updated: 1:50pm, December 9 2010