Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Attempted Censorship of Play Seven Jewish Children

From the "MuzzleWatch" news

B’nai Brith Canada has asked Toronto’s mayor to “use his good offices” to prevent the staging of a controversial play at a city-owned theater.

The Jewish human rights group says “Seven Jewish Children” by British playwright Caryl Churchill is “blatantly propagandist” and “aimed at delegitimizing not only Israel but its Jewish supporters worldwide.”

The good news is that you can watch Caryl Churchill’s Play, Seven Jewish Children, right now. It’ll take under 10 minutes. Make sure you have your box of tissues with you.

Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon, who call Churchill “one of the most important and influential playwrights living,” recently wrote in The Nation about the play’s UK production:

While some British critics greatly admired the play, which was presented by a Jewish director with a largely Jewish cast, a number of prominent British Jews denounced it as anti-Semitic. Some even accused Churchill of blood libel, of perpetrating in Seven Jewish Children the centuries-old lie, used to incite homicidal anti-Jewish violence, that Jews ritually murder non-Jewish children. A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews told the Jerusalem Post that the “horrifically anti-Israel” text went “beyond the boundaries of reasonable political discourse.”

We emphatically disagree. We think Churchill’s play should be seen and discussed as widely as possible.

Though you’d never guess from the descriptions offered by its detractors, the play is dense, beautiful, elusive and intentionally indeterminate. This is not to say that the play isn’t also direct and incendiary. It is. It’s disturbing, it’s provocative, but appropriately so, given the magnitude of the calamity it enfolds in its pages. Any play about the crisis in the Middle East that doesn’t arouse anger and distress has missed the point.

Israel-based human rights activist Rebecca Vilkomerson wrote in a letter, also in The Nation:

I’ve read Caryl Churchill’s play, “Seven Jewish Children—A Play for Gaza” three times, and cried through each reading. As a mom and an activist, living in Tel Aviv and raising two daughters, I found the play to be devastating and true. Beyond that, it is remarkably compassionate and clear in its historical consciousness and the awareness that our deepest urges, to protect our children, can have terrible moral consequences. There’s not an anti-Semitic word in it.

As my Israeli husband said, “she captured exactly how it really is to live here.”

We constantly struggle with the questions of when and how and what to tell our children about what is happening all around them. That’s why, for example, I take my older daughter to events
supporting the shministim, the highschoolers refusing to be drafted into the army. Perhaps, as Solomon and Kushner write, “this girl will grow up to work for justice.”

That ability to open peoples’ eyes, not anti-semitism, is what is so scary to those who attack Churchill’s play.

Churchill was inspired to write the play after Israel’s terrible invasion of Gaza this winter which killed nearly 1,500 Gazans and injured thousands more. As the mother of a 6-year-old myself, I would have been among the first of the thousands who did leave Sderot because of the Qassam rockets. And before that, had I or other Gazans been allowed to leave– I would have been the first in line to get out of Gaza, grasping my son’s hand tightly at the checkpoint, so we could get food and medical care.

But the Israeli military’s endless pounding of some 1.5 million Gazans, half of them children, with literally no place to go, made the army look more like a vicious and out of control drunkard, than a smart tactitian. Once again, the attitude that “we’re going to teach them a lesson,” through bombing Gaza into oblivion didn’t bring real safety but did ensure an entire new generation of deeply traumatized Palestinian children.

While there are numerous exceptions, Churchill investigates what exactly happened not just to the Israeli but to the entire Jewish (institutional) collective which by and large has either defended or actively support this kind of uncontrolled violence brought down on the heads of another people. How does our profound trauma as Jews, which lives with all of us and surfaces often at the strangest of times, transform into the callousness about Palestinian and Arab lives that has become commonplace at so many Jewish dinner tables?

Don’t look for any understanding from Frank Dimant, a leader with Canada’s B’nai Brith, who wants to shut down Seven Jewish Children. He obviously hasn’t spent much time at Israeli dinner tables lately.

“The City of Toronto should not allow a venue that it funds to be the staging ground for a divisive play that promotes anti-Jewish hatred,” Frank Dimant, the organization’s executive vice president, said in a statement. “As its name denotes, ‘Seven Jewish Children’ does not even pretend to target Israel exclusively. It is clearly aimed at maligning Jews, depicting them as oppressors of Palestinians, blood-thirsty aggressors and child killers. It disturbingly inverts history, using Holocaust imagery to allege that the Jews, once the victims, are actively teaching their own children callous disregard for the suffering of others.”

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