UK Jews brand 'Play for Gaza' libelous, anti-Semitic

'Production portrays Israelis as inhumane triumphalists who teach their kids that Arabs are sub-human.'

gaza play 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gaza play 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Over 60 Jewish community members, including well-known actors, academics, rabbis and community leaders, have signed a letter in protest at the decision by a prestigious London theater to host a play that has been accused of being anti-Semitic. Running at the Royal Court Theater in west London, "Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza‚" was written by British playwright Caryl Churchill, a pro-Palestinian activist and patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, to raise funds for Gaza. Entrance to the play is free with a collection afterwards for the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. In a letter published in Thursday's Daily Telegraph newspaper the signatories accuse the play of demonizing Israelis by reinforcing false stereotypes. "It portrays Israeli parents as inhuman triumphalists who care little about anything except their children's feelings and who teach them that Arabs are sub-human and must be hated," it says. The signatories, who include well-know actresses Maureen Lipman and Tracey-Ann Oberman, question the motivation of the theater to host such a play, especially after comments made by the theater's associate director that he would be reluctant to stage a play critical of Islam. "Our regret at the decision to show Seven Jewish Children should not be taken as opposition to free speech in the theater - which is vital. However, we are at a loss to understand how the decision accords with the comment by the associate director of the Royal Court that he would be reluctant to stage a play critical of Islam," the letter said. The play is described as "a 10-minute history of Israel, ending with the bombing of Gaza," and the signatories question the historical facts contained in it. "It is historically inaccurate. It fails to say that the Six Day War was a defensive war, following which Israel offered to return virtually all the land it had gained in return for peace. It excises from history the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and ignores the more than 6,000 rockets, launched with the sole aim of the indiscriminate killing of Israelis." The play has been controversial since it opened on February 6, with Jewish community organizations accusing it of anti-Semitism. Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chair of the Zionist Federation who has seen the play, said it was libelous and drew on anti-Semitic stereotypes. "Seven Jewish Children was a libelous and despicable demonization of Israeli parents and grandparents which will only stoke the fires of anti-Semitism. It draws on several anti-Semitic stereotypes, from the blood libel through to the 'chosen people' trope," he said. Speaking about the play before its launch last month, Churchill said: "It came out of feeling strongly about what's happening in Gaza - it's a way of helping the people there. Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme." The theater denied the accusation: "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 criticize the actions of Israel without being anti-Semitic. In keeping with its philosophy, the Royal Court presents a multiplicity of viewpoints," a spokesman said. The theater also said that the play's assistant director, Natalie Ibu, sent an e-mail to the Board of Deputies of British Jews to invite a representative to attend a rehearsal "to talk about the foundation of Israel and other pertinent issues from your point of view." "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," she said. Spokesman for the Board Mark Frazer said: "We were astounded when we received the e-mail, we thought there was something strange about it and realized 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 of reasonable political discourse." In 2005, the theater hosted the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie‚" a play about the International Solidarity Movement activist accidentally killed by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2003.