“I know with all my heart, my Jewish heart, that it’s wrong.” Watch Margolyes in 2007 supporting Enough! Coalition to End the Israeli Occupation.
Miriam Margolyes, a prominent English actress, perhaps best known for her appearance in the Harry Potter movies, (she is in the middle of the photo below) had a performance canceled by a Jewish organization in Melbourne because of her forthcoming participation in a controversial play, reported on here, about Israel. Apparently, “Seven Jewish Children” is practically radioactive in terms of its effect on the establishment Jewish community, erroneous claims of “blood libel” are being thrown around cavalierly. As discussed previously, only some people get to ever reference the Holocaust, while others are anti-Semites of the worst order.
Margolyes, who splits her time between England and Australia, was scheduled to entertain residents at JewishCare, a large elder care facility in Melbourne but was told that her appearance could offend some residents who were Holocaust survivors.
This need to protect the elderly residents from the appearance of Margolyes, not because her performance might be offensive, but because she will be acting in Seven Jewish Children, speaks to the irrational fears that are so much a part of the effort to muzzle any criticism of Israel.
Caryl Churchill’s play, Seven Jewish Children, posits a direct historical line between Jewish trauma, Jewish fear, and Jewish callousness towards Palestinian life. I think it’s not only fair, but compassionate, even as it makes us look at something so ugly and disturbing about ourselves. I wrote a post on this yesterday which I saw quoted in other blogs. Something didn’t feel right- and I added this piece which I think is worth highlighting. It follows a statement I made about the general disregard for Palestinian and Arab life that can be found at many Jewish dinner tables.
It must be remembered that the same question can be asked of virtually all people. How many Americans ate dinner as usual after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How many people in the Arab world today might think little of the deaths of Israelis or Jews? How many Europeans paused even a moment to consider the horror of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, or their homeland’s vicious colonial practices? We are all implicated. All accountable. To think Jews are exceptional on this count is to be in denial about the fundamental nature of people. [And it's anti-Semitic.] But to move out of this terrible ability to dehumanize and disconnect requires open discussion, not silence. We have to lift the rock and peer beneath, no matter how ugly.
I do not take from the Holocaust the lesson that Germans are essentially evil. I take from it the lesson that we all are capable of being Nazis, in some fashion.
Rather than working to shut down Seven Jewish Children, as some wish to do, we should support cultural production that forces all people to ask these questions about ourselves. Let’s start with Seven, or maybe Seventy American Children.
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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.”
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.”