Thursday, 11 June 2009

Seven Jewish Children British playwright Caryl Churchill caused an almighty stink when it was rushed out in the wake of the misbegotten adventure in Gaza earlier this year. 8 minutes long, it is an (emphasis on the indefinite article) account of key moments in the history of the modern state of Israel, from the perspective of parents looking for the right way to articulate their fears and hopes to their children.

The play started a huge furore, with accusations of anti-Semitism countered by claims of the right to free speech, including the right to criticise Israeli policy in the Territories in the harshest of terms. Ms Churchill relinquished all rights to the play, on condition that all proceeds from performances be donated to charities helping the victims of the Gaza campaign.

Now, according to today's Ha'aretz, the play is to be staged at Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv as part of the Hebrew Book Week, a reading directed by Skype and telephone by Arab Israeli director Samieh Jabbarin. (To understand why he cannot direct in person, read this.)

A few thoughts:

Ms Churchill, it must be said, is loudly partisan (she is a patron) so far as the disputes between Israel and its neighbours are concerned. But then, so are many other people.

The play, frankly, has little artistic merit. (Personal opinion. May not be worth the proverbial bucket of warm spit. But there you go...)

Most people subscribe the principle of Free Speech up until the point where the person speaking freely starts to say things they don't like. I struggle with this myself. An example: I think the British National Party, like all other citizens and their representatives, should have the right to talk about the ethnic balance of the United Kingdom. I, however, do not want to hear what they do have to say because I find their views personally repulsive. (The fact that I am directly affected by their proposals for voluntary repatriation obviously forms a part of this response).

Rights - such as the right to Free Speech - are inextricably intertwined with Responsibilities - such as the responsibility to tell the truth. Most people ignore this when it is convenient to do so.

Staging the play is, obviously, intended as a provocation. I do not say this in a necessarily negative sense - provocations can useful, to shake people out of their complacency - but nonetheless, I am a man for reasoned argument over shouting, evolution rather than revolution.

My opinion - This play - and the staging of this play tonight - is shouting. The people who will oppose it being staged will shout in return. Many people will miss the opportunity to engage with the issues, and instead take sides to fit their personal prejudices. That's a shame.

(I think I've linked to a reading of the play in the heading to this blog. If not, I blame my technical incompetence, and I'll do it again later.)


thebookmistress said...

Or as I tend to put it, much less eloquently, "You are a bastard and your mother is a dirty whore! Why do you refuse to join a rational discussion about this and try to silence me instead? What do you have to hide?"

If I know Churchill is a rabidly obsessed anti-Israel campaigner (and she is), I have no interest in what she has to say. I've heard it all before, and none of it is as new as the Israel-haters of today seem to think it is. And I know she certainly has no interest in having an open mind or working towards an actual solution. So what is actually the point, other than provocation for provocation's sake?

Goy said...

Fair point. Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day...

Of course that's not the whole thing - but I do think that the correct response to the rabidly obsessed is to challenge the half truths, farragos and fabrications, but also - when necessary - to acknowledge the uncomfortable truths.

There's a whole debate about Gaza hat hasn't taken place in Israel,not yet, and it needs to happen at some point. I honestly don't think that Seven Jewish Children can lead - is capable of leading - this debate, but it might nudge people in the right direction.


Goy said...

Of course, I concentrate on the Israeli 'side' here. That's because I live here and am more familiar with the state of play, so to speak. The 'other side' have things to contemplate, too...clearly, if Hamas could even dare to suggest that the Gaza Campaign was a 'victory' for the Palestinian population, they need to examine themselves very closely...

Adam E. said...

Interesting stuff.
I have never seen the "Seven Jewish Children" play, so I can't comment, but I have recently become a bit worried about the whole Israeli attitude to this sort of thing.
I have always been in favour of looking at every conflict from both sides, but there seems to be something very futile in trying to take the Palestinian point of view when it is matched by so little interest from them to do vice versa. When I read articles such as the following: (
I really wonder to what extent their side of the story is actually worth seeing; or if, in fact, in questioning our own actions, we are just doing their own work for them.

Goy said...

Depends. I think it is important for one to put one's house in order, so to speak; on the other hand, it is a bit dippy to do so whilst ignoring the bigger picture. Or pretending that there isn't a bigger picture.