A leading theatre’s planned staging of a controversial anti-Israel play has angered Jewish organisations, with one group saying it would support protests against the production.
My Name is Rachel Corrie, based on the emails and diary entries of a pro-Palestinian activist in Gaza, will be performed at the Young Vic in London from September 29 — the night of Kol Nidrei.
Communal leaders have called the play “unapologetically anti-Israel” and described it as a polemic, with one questioning why an organisation receiving public funding was not offering a balanced perspective.
The Young Vic currently receives an annual grant of more than £1.7 million from Arts Council England.
But David Lan, the theatre’s artistic director, who is Jewish, told the JC: “Gaza is a wound to the planet from which so many people are suffering.
“We welcome and hope to encourage as wide a discussion of this terrible situation as possible. Anything that keeps Gaza at the front of our consciousness is to be valued.”
The play, which was put together by Alan Rickman, the late actor, and Katharine Viner, now the editor of the Guardian, was first performed in 2005 at the Royal Court theatre in London.
It has been condemned for its one-sided portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, focusing exclusively on Israeli treatment of Palestinians and downplaying terror attacks on Israel.
Rachel Corrie was an American activist working in the Gaza Strip for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) which describes itself as a humanitarian organisation but has been accused of using its volunteers as human shields.
In 2003, she and other ISM members attempted to prevent Israeli bulldozers from demolishing a house which the IDF believed to be hiding the entrance to a series of terror tunnels.
Ms Corrie was struck and killed by one of the bulldozers in an incident which an Israeli court ruled to be an accident.
News of the Young Vic’s production prompted an angry response.
Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation, said: “The revival of this unapologetically anti-Israel play is nothing short of an opportunity to fan the flames of hatred. While many are trying to reconcile and de-escalate the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, the Young Vic is promoting a revival of a play that only aims to drive a wedge between two peoples and their supporters.
He added: “This has nothing to do with ‘justice’ and everything to do with ‘politics’. The ZF will be supporting those who seek to protest against it and will not simply stand by while futile hatred and unconstructive negativity is allowed to run unchecked in one of London’s theatres.”
Marie van der Zyl, vice president of the Board of Deputies, accused the theatre of a lack of balance.
She said: “While free artistic expression is important, from the Young Vic’s recent output, the theatre seems to believe that this is only applicable to plays expressing the Palestinian narrative.
“We are writing to the Young Vic to ask why they have not put on any plays from an Israeli Jewish perspective in recent memory, and to bring some of the best of it to London audiences.
“We feel that they have a particular responsibility to do so given their significant public funding, and we will also be in contact with the Arts Council and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to call for public money to fund art for peace, and not for polemic.”
The production is being directed by Joshua Roche, who won the JMK Young Director competition for his proposal to revive the play. The prize included the opportunity to stage the chosen work at the Young Vic.
After winning the award in May, Mr Roche described the play as being “about the irrepressible political voice of Rachel Corrie.
“Rachel Corrie and I were born only 10 years apart. Her legacy is our inheritance”.
Mr Roche declined to comment when approached this week.
The James Menzies-Kitchin (JMK) Award, now in its 20th year, is held in memory of the young director, who died suddenly in 1996 at the age of 28.
Past winners include Mark Rosenblatt in 1999, who directed The Dybbuk by Ansky, and Natalie Abrahami in 2005, directing Samuel Beckett’s Play/Not I.
Ivan Lewis, the Jewish MP and former Middle East Minister, is on the Young Vic’s Board of Trustees. He did not respond to a request for a comment.