Churchill returns fire over play

By Tessa Roberts, February 26, 2009

Playwright Caryl Churchill has lashed out at writer and columnist Howard Jacobson after he claimed her latest work was antisemitic.

In last week’s Independent and subsequently in the JC, Mr Jacobson criticised Ms Churchill’s 10-minute Royal Court Theatre play, Seven Jewish Children, as “one-sided” and “Jew-hating. The play, billed as a short history of Israel, finished last Saturday.

But Ms Churchill, a patron of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, described Mr Jacobson’s criticism as a “usual tactic”.

She said: “We’re not going to agree about politics. But we should be able to disagree without accusations of antisemitism... Howard Jacobson seems to see the play from a very particular perspective so that everything is twisted.”

Mr Jacobson accused Ms Churchill of portraying modern-day Israelis as “monsters who kill babies by design”.

In response, she said: “I don’t recognise the play from that description.”

She also dismissed Mr Jacobson’s criticism of a scene which depicts an Israeli apparently “rejoicing” in the murder of dead children in Gaza.

“The character is numb and defiant in his relief that his own child is safe. He believes that what has happened is justified as self-defence,” she said.

“Howard Jacobson may agree. I don’t...but it doesn’t make me antisemitic.” She added: “When people attack English Jews in the street saying ‘This is for Gaza’, they are making a terrible mistake, confusing the people who bombed Gaza with Jews in general. When Howard Jacobson confuses those who criticise Israel with antisemites, he is making the same mistake. Unless he’s doing it on purpose.”

Jewish leaders have been fiercely critical of the play, with 15 community leaders, actors and writers signing a letter of protest which appeared in the Daily Telegraph and the JC last week.

The Chief Rabbi was approached to sign the letter but, according to an official spokesperson, had not read the script and was unable to comment.

Last updated: 1:36pm, February 26 2009