Another Churchill – grate not great

Those who follow some of the anti-Israel polemics on the internet, will have read of a miniplay entitled “Seven Jewish Children – a play for Gaza”, by Caryl Churchill of England. In about 8 minutes, she manages to emit a visceral hatred that is reminiscent of claims of Jewish blood libel.  After paddling its oar in Europe and US, it seems to have reached our Australian shores.

While calls for this work to be seen as art have predictably emerged, strong objections to its inherent bias have also been raised.

It is ironic that in the same way that damaging publicity of the Mohammed Dura affair was promoted by free distribution of the film clip, the Guardian has also included a copy of the video on its site – see here, which also includes an excellent critique by Howard Jacobson.

Hard-hitting critiques of the miniplay have also been written by Richard Chesnoff as well as Kenneth Levin in the U.S.

The Chesnoff article also provides you with the opportunity to look through an excellent panoply of Jewish writers – on the site called the Jewish World Review.

The letter below, which was in The Telegraph, signed by over 60 British Jews, also makes its points clearly.

“Seven Jewish Children (by Caryl Churchill) demonises Israelis by reinforcing false stereotypes. It portrays Israeli parents as inhuman triumphalists who care little about anything except their childrens feelings and who teach them that Arabs are subhuman and must be hated.

It is historically inaccurate. Specifically, it omits all mention of Jewish history prior to the Holocaust and fails to say that the Six-Day War was a defensive war (against Arab States committed to Israels eradication), following which Israel offered to return virtually all the land it had gained, in return for peace. Moreover, it excises from history the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and ignores the sequel of more than 6000 rockets, launched with the sole aim of the indiscriminate killing of Israelis.

The play is acutely reminiscent of a number of antisemitic tropes, for example the ‘blood libel and use of the ‘chosen people phrase to imply that Jews believe they are superior to non-Jews. It can only add to the growing and deeply disturbing climate of antisemitism. Moreover, in staging this play, giving it unprecedented access and releasing it for free performance anywhere, the Royal Court is being unbalanced in its favours. At this tinderbox time of growing anti-Israel sentiment – particularly on our campuses- the last thing a theatre or a playwright should do is deliberately stoke the flames.

Our profound regret at the decision to show Seven Jewish Children should not be taken in any way as opposition to free speech in the theatre, which is vital. But we are at a loss to understand how the decision accords with the recent comment by Ramin Gray (the associate director of the Royal Court) that he would be reluctant to stage a play critical of Islam.”

To end in a more positive vein, here is a site devoted to Winston Churchill, including speeches and quotations. Excerpts below are from an article by Dr Yoav Tennenbaum about Winston Churchill’s positive attitude to Israel and Zionism

“The historian Bernard Wasserstein argues that “No British statesman had a more consistent and more emphatic record of…support for Zionism as a solution to the Jewish problem than Winston Churchill.”

Only eight months subsequent to the proclamation of the State, Churchill suggested to the House of Commons that “The coming into being of a Jewish State in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years.”

Churchill used to trace his Zionism back to the days of the Balfour Declaration, describing himself as “an old Zionist.” His attitude toward Zionism remained as passionate and as explicit following his return to Ten Downing Street in 1951. Now, however, with the State of Israel firmly in place, the images he entertained became perhaps more vivid, more colorful, and as ever imbued with historical resonance.

Thus, in June 1954, Churchill stated to journalists in the United States, “I am a Zionist, let me make that clear. I was one of the original ones after the Balfour Declaration and I have worked faithfully for it.” This was merely the introduction. He went on: “I think it is a most wonderful thing that this community should have established itself so effectively, turning the desert into fertile gardens and thriving townships, and should have afforded refuge to millions of their co-religionists who suffered so fearfully under Hitler, and not only under Hitler, persecution. I think it is a wonderful thing.” In a conversation with Israel’s Ambassador in London, Eliyahu Elath, Churchill referred to Israel’s population as “the sons of the prophets dwelling in Zion.”

On the Suez Canal blockade by Egypt against Israel in 1956, Churchill made it clear to the Foreign Office that “I do not mind it being known here or in Cairo that I am on the side of Israel and her ill-treatment by the Egyptians.” On the fate of Jerusalem, Churchill urged Evelyn Shuckburgh, Assistant Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, “You ought to let the Jews have Jerusalem; it is they who made it famous.”

He told his Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, “To me the greatest issue in this part of the world is not deserting Israel.” In this context, he warned Eden against following in the footsteps of one of his predecessors. “Ernest Bevin, being temperamentally anti-semitic, made the first mistake of backing Egypt against Israel….I hope…that we both equally condemn the Bevinite antisemitic policy.”

Another article about Churchill and his connection to Israel and Zionism.

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