Outrage over 'demonising' play for Gaza

By Leon Symons, February 12, 2009

A 10-minute play about the history of Israel by the playwright Caryl Churchill has been condemned as antisemitic.

The claim has been “categorically” rejected by the Royal Court Theatre, which is staging the play, Seven Jewish Children — a play for Gaza.

Natalie Ibu, the play’s assistant director, sent an email to the Board of Deputies while the play was in rehearsal.

She wrote: “The play examines the history of the state of Israel and depicts strong pro-Israeli views. We think it is important we understand this point of view in order to represent it correctly and authentically.

“We wonder whether someone from your organisation could visit our rehearsal room to talk about the foundation of Israel and other pertinent issues from your point of view.”

Board spokesman Mark Frazer said: “We were astounded when we received the e-mail. When we read it, we thought there was something strange about it and realised this was a red herring. We responded by telling them we would have nothing to do with it.

“We knew the play was going to be horrifically anti-Israel because Caryl Churchill is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign; the title Seven Jewish Children is the least of what pushes it beyond the boundaries reasonable political discourse.”

In each scene, a group of adults debate what they should tell seven children about various episodes in modern Jewish history, from Nazi Germany to the Holocaust, the creation of the state of Israel, the 1967 war and, finally, Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

After the play, which runs until February 21, a collection is solicited from the audience for the charity Medical Aid for the Palestinians — Ms Churchill has made a donation to MAP a proviso for future free performances of the play.

Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chairman of the Zionist Federation, has seen the play. He said: “This was a libellous and despicable demonisation of Israeli parents and grandparents which will only stoke the fires of antisemitism.

“It draws on several antisemitic stereotypes, from the blood libel through to the ‘chosen people’ trope.

“It is a grotesque parody of Jewish history, distorted to portray Israeli fathers as heartless, murderous triumphalists and Israeli mothers as caring only about what’s best for their daughters.

“Fortunately, the vast majority of London theatregoers are nowhere near as brainless as these demonised Jews — and certainly nowhere near as brainless as Caryl Churchill takes them for.”

A spokeswoman from the Royal Court said: “Some concerns have been raised that Seven Jewish Children is antisemitic. We categorically reject that accusation and furthermore would urge people to see this play before they judge it.

“While Seven Jewish Children is undoubtedly critical of the policies of the state of Israel, there is no suggestion that this should be read as a criticism of Jewish people. It is possible to criticise the actions of Israel without being antisemitic.

“In keeping with its philosophy, the Royal Court Theatre presents a multiplicity of viewpoints.

“The Stone, which is currently running before Seven Jewish Children, asks very difficult questions about the refusal of some modern Germans to accept their ancestors’ complicity in Nazi atrocities. Shades, currently in our smaller studio theatre, is a play set in contemporary London which explores issues of tolerance in the Muslim community.”

The script of the play has been published and has been seen by JC columnist Melanie Phillips, who has voiced criticism on the Spectator’s website.

She wrote: “This is an open vilification of the Jewish people, not merely repeatedly perpetrating incendiary lies about Israel but demonstrably and openly drawing upon an atavistic hatred of the Jews.”

“It is sickening and dreadful beyond measure that the Royal Court is staging this. It is not a contribution to a necessarily polarised and emotional debate. It is open incitement to hatred”.

Last updated: 6:06pm, February 12 2009