EXCLUSIVE: Theatre at centre of antisemitism storm showed map erasing Israel

Royal Court Theatre apologised earlier this month for using a Jewish stereotype in a play


The London theatre at the centre of an antisemitism storm displayed a map on its website that erased Israel, the JC can reveal.

The Royal Court Theatre, which apologised earlier this month over a play that featured a greedy Jewish billionaire called Hershel Fink, showed the map on its website for at least six years.

The map, which was labelled ‘Palestine’ and showed towns in Lebanon and Jordan but not in Israel, appeared to have been removed from the page and replaced with a black square last week as the scandal raged.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a Jewish director warned the theatre in September that the production featuring Hershel Fink, Rare Earth Mettle, would offend the Jewish community, but was ignored. It was only two months later that an outcry prompted its directors to apologise and change the name of the billionaire character.

According to a Sunday Times investigation last weekend, the director told the Royal Court’s Associate Director, Hamish Pirie, that the name was clearly of Jewish origin and might draw criticism as it had developed into an antisemitic trope. However, the name of the character, played by Arthur Darvill, was not changed until nearly two months later, when the play and Hershel Fink gained attention on social media.

The Royal Court issued a statement earlier this week saying: “On 8 November the leadership of the Royal Court was informed that the name had been raised by a Jewish director in a workshop discussion held as part of the series Directors: Working on New Plays in September 2021.

"We are in conversations with this director as we hold ourselves accountable for why this was not taken further, nor passed on to the writer. This specific event will form part of the Board’s internal review.”

It was also revealed two weeks ago that a key consultant used by the theatre to provide advice on racism backed a boycott of Israel.

Shoomi Chowdhury, who until June headed a team from the anti-racism consultancy Sour Lemons, signed an open letter calling on Sainsbury’s to stop selling goods made in the Jewish state.

“These tactics worked against apartheid South Africa, and they’re starting to work against apartheid Israel too,” the letter said. “The call has always been explicitly and openly about boycotting Israeli-made goods.” The founder of Sour Lemons, Sade Banks, said in 2013 she had been researching Israeli companies to boycott.

Responding to criticism that it had hosted a map of the Eastern Mediterranean that left out Israel, the Royal Court Said: “The maps used on all of the international department’s country pages (also including Mexico, Brazil, Syria, Russia, India) were autogenerated through a Google Map link and therefore not of our creation.

“At some point since 2015 the maps were no longer visible because the link to Google Maps ceased to function.”

In response to the Sunday Times investigation, Jewish actress Tracy Ann-Oberman tweeted that she would be going ahead with a planned project at The Royal Court, saying: “There can be no better place to start unravelling anti-Jewish bias, unconscious or otherwise, than in the very progressive left theatre space.”

The Royal Court said in the wake of the outcry over Rare Earth Mettle : “We will reflect on the process that enabled the name to remain and what is missing in our systems that would have mitigated this unnecessary harm.”

The threatre also claimed that they had not removed the Palestine map as the outcry over the play raged, telling the JC: "At some point since 2015, when the Google map link broke, the website image box would have automatically referred back to the default (a black box). This is what the other country pages now also look like. To clarify this was not activated by the Royal Court and it is unknown when, over the last six year, this link broke."  

Alex Hearn, Director of Labour Against Antisemitism, said: "The Royal Court Theatre has previously courted controversy for plays and characters which have attracted accusations of anti-Semitism. Now it appears it has been attempting to erase any record of Israel at all.

"A map erasing the world's only Jewish state is alleged to have been on the Royal Court website for a number of years and only very recently removed, coinciding with their latest antisemitic incident.  These issues appear to be deeply entrenched and systematic. It is not adequate for them to handpick Jewish people whose views they find palatable to engage with.  The Royal Court must consult with respected community leaders and known experts in combating antisemitism to address this troubling issue which has infected the Royal Court for too long.

"Given the context this will be seen as part of an ongoing attack on Jewish identity and self-determination."

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