Australians boycott Margolyes

By Dan Goldberg, May 14, 2009
Miriam Margolyes: starring in Seven Jewish Children in Melbourne

Miriam Margolyes: starring in Seven Jewish Children in Melbourne

Jewish actress Miriam Margolyes is facing the wrath of the Australian community after it was announced she would participate in a reading of Seven Jewish Children, a play that has been branded antisemitic.

Their anger became apparent when JewishCare, Melbourne Jewry’s largest elderly-care facility, declined an offer by Ms Margolyes to entertain its residents last Tuesday.

She claims that she was told by the home that her appearance could offend some of its residents, who are Holocaust survivors.

Ms Margolyes, 67, is scheduled to headline Seven Jewish Children, the controversial work by English playwright Caryl Churchill, written in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza earlier this year.

A fundraiser for Australians for Palestine, the 10-minute, one-off reading will be staged at the prestigious State Library of Victoria on Monday in commemoration of the Naqba, Arabic for “the catastrophe” of the 1948 war.

“I think they’re quite wrong, I would never get involved with anything which was either antisemitic or critical of Holocaust survivors,” Ms Margolyes said in a statement.

“I feel they’re making a terrible mistake and I am very sad because I was truly looking forward to appearing there. I support Jewish Care in the UK both in appearances and with donations, and I will continue to do so.”

A spokesman for JewishCare in Melbourne declined to comment.

Seven Jewish Children was first performed in London at the Royal Court Theatre in February.

JC columnist Melanie Phillips condemned it on her Spectator blog as “an open vilification of the Jewish people… sickening and dreadful beyond measure”.

But The Times critic described it as “an impassioned response to the events in Gaza”.

The short piece of theatre, subtitled A Play For Gaza, comprises seven scenes set over 70 years and portrays adults debating how to tell their children about Israel’s history.

It focuses on several key landmarks, beginning with the Holocaust and ending with Israel’s war against Hamas in January.

Australian Jewish leaders have joined the chorus of critics, with Jeremy Jones, of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, describing the play as “propaganda disguised as art”.

He added: “It makes Judaism and Jewry appear to be both amoral and immoral.”

Ms Margolyes, who visited Gaza with the UN 12 years ago, said she wants Israel to survive but is opposed to “stifling debate”.

She won a BAFTA in 1994 for her role as Mrs Mingott in Martin Scorsese’s Age of Innocence, and was awarded an OBE for services to drama in 2001.

Last updated: 11:31am, May 14 2009