Dear Mr. Roth:
I have long admired your work at Theater J, particularly your commitment to presenting plays that challenge and engage audiences and help foster the kinds of serious debates and open dialogue that rarely take place in contemporary culture venues. I am, therefore, not surprised that you have decided to include Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children as part of your ongoing program “Voices from a Changing Middle East.”
Your decision is particularly brave because you leave yourself and your theatre open to the attacks of those groups and individuals who want to ban the play and ostracize anyone associated with its production. They argue that the play—and other works which express any suggestion of criticism over Israel’s actions in Gaza and its general positions vis a vis Palestinians—is anti-Semitic.
It is a frightening and dangerous situation when every serious work and every serious individual that looks critically at Israel’s actions is immediately branded anti-Semitic. The effect of such name calling, and its purpose, is to present a closed, united front on Israeli policies, suppress all discussion and debate, and—worst of all—breed self-censorship among those fearful of being labeled anti-Semites if they raise any questions about Israel’s positions and actions. Nothing can change if no new ideas are allowed to appear.
For an Israeli, these attempts to deny free discussion concerning the country’s policies is strange; here we engage in such, often acrimonious, debates as a matter of course, just as one would expect in a democratic society with a free press, and cultural institutions not subject to external censorship. Why should it be different in the UK or in America? It is often argued that it is one thing to hang one’s “dirty laundry” at home, another to show it to the outside. Yet, no country is above international scrutiny; and the very complexities of the Middle East demand attention, just as they demand debate and hard questions. The fear of engaging in discussion abroad has contributed to the very morass we face in the region today.
I hope that the reading of Churchill’s play and the dramatic responses by Deb Margolin and Robbie Gringras provoke the audience to ask questions, open channels of communication, and to think and feel deeply about the situations presented, not to deny they exist. Engagement on a human level is vital in the Middle East crisis as it is in all areas daily life. This is what theatre can uniquely provide, what it does best. Thank you for facilitating this possibility for your audiences.
Professor emerita, Theatre Studies Department
Tel Aviv University