The Guardian production of Caryl Churchill’s Antisemitic Play


Howard Jacobson’s critique is here.

16 Responses to “The Guardian production of Caryl Churchill’s Antisemitic Play”

  1. Gil Says:

    Read too the piece by the Guardian Arts correspondent, replete with biased language and ill disguised contempt for anyone who doesn’t buy into the Guardian/Milne agenda:

    For example, ‘howls of protest’ is used for critics of the play whereas supporters of it have, merely, made ‘declarations of support’. An attempt to demonise Howard Jacobson whose criticism was a model of restraint.

    ‘The Guardian version features the actor Jennie Stoller reading the play, which has Israeli parents articulating how they should tell their children what is going on during key moments in Israel’s history, from the pogroms of the early 20th century to the six-day war to the Gaza bombing.’

    So the Holocaust in the eyes of the Guardian Art’s correspondent is to be unmentioned and (probably) tagged on to ‘pogroms’. Just like that. But why?

    And another malicious comment: ‘The US pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby group J Street’ note the ‘pro peace’. Thus, anyone who doesn’t support J Street is anti-peace and presumably pro-war.

    The Guardian’s use of facile language, here and many other examples, disqualifies it from being a serious newspaper.

  2. johng Says:

    this is surely libelous. it is ludicrous to call this an anti-semitic play.

  3. Saul Says:

    In the light of this current post, here is the Guardian’s review on what looks like a great series of plays on Afghanistan. (The second paragraph is especially pertinent).

    “If there were any doubt about the Tricycle’s status as Britain’s foremost political theatre, it is silenced by this mind-blowing achievement. Nicolas Kent and his team have commissioned 12 half-hour plays which make up The Great Game and which cover Afghan history from 1842 to the present. Over the next few weeks they will be accompanied by films, exhibitions and discussions. And, having seen the dozen core dramas, which can be viewed either on a single day or separate evenings, two things strike me.

    One is that they fulfil a basic function of art by instructing delightfully. The other is that, rather than pursuing an editorial line, they give us the information to allow us to make up our own minds about Afghanistan’s future.”

  4. SevenOtherChildren Says:

    To quote from the blurb on the Royal Court website when 7JC was playing: “Angry, Sad, Confused? – Come and spend Ten Minutes with Us!”

    Come and see “Seven Other Children”, the play the Royal Court refused to show – because “no balance is required – Are A Doll’s House or King Lear fair?”

    Richard Stirling’s eight-minute play matches Caryl Churchill’s format and vernacular but seeks to provide the necessary context to the debate. ‘Seven Other Children’ is written not in its own right, but to show a dimension overlooked by recent plays on the subject: the tragedy of the Palestinian child as victim of a distorted education about Israel, and the crescendo of hate that continues to grow. A collection will be made at the end of the performance, for OneVoice, the international mainstream grassroots movement that puts pressure on politicians of both sides.

    5 – 16 May 2009, Tuesday – Saturday at 9.50pm
    New End Theatre, 27 New End, Hampstead, London NW3 1JD

    Admission to Seven Other Children, as with Caryl Churchill’s piece, is free; performances last less than ten minutes.

    Richard Stirling trained at RADA, and has appeared on film, TV, in the West End and US. His written work includes the Sunday Times Top Ten bestselling biography of Dame Julie Andrews and many articles for newspapers and magazines.

    The fully staged production is directed by Simone Vause.

    The cast of nine, matching the Royal Court number, comprises an international ensemble. Confirmed so far: Simona Armstrong, finalist from BBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?; Martin Brody, from ABC’s Emmy Award-winning series The Path to 9/11 and ITV’s Trial and Retribution; Jodie Osterland, 2002 Laurence Olivier bursary winner from East15 Drama School; Phineas Pett, The 24 Hour Plays, Old Vic; Claire Malka; Philip Chamberlin

    Three more to be announced.

    Advance booking is required. Please telephone the dedicated booking line 020 7592 9666 and leave a clear message with your name, telephone number, dates and ticket requirements.

    The play follows nightly performances of the New End Theatre’s One Act Play Festival.

    Press enquiries: please contact Emily Taylor, PR agent for the New End Theatre 020 7472 5800.

    “Seven Other Children” is on Facebook too

  5. zkharya Says:


    “this is surely libelous. it is ludicrous to call this an anti-semitic play.”

    Was The Independent libellous for allowing Howard Jacobson to explain precisely why he thought the piece was antisemitic?

    I think that Howard Jacobson, as an author, as an academic, as an inllectual and as someone literate and versed in at least the basics of English literature, is eminently more qualified to judge whether this play is antisemitic than you.

    Surely, John, that is a matter of opinion. If you were marking reviews written by your students, would you automatically fail or exclude from excellence those which argued that it is antisemitic?

  6. zkharya Says:

    Is it worthwhile pasting Jacobson’s last critique:

    “Coincidentally, or not, a ten-minute play by Caryl Churchill–accusing Jews of the same addiction to blood-spilling–has recently enjoyed a two-week run at the Royal Court Theatre in London and three performances at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Seven Jewish Children declares itself to be a fund-raiser for Gazans. Anyone can produce it without paying its author a fee, so long as the seats are free and there is a collection for the beleaguered population of Gaza after the performance.

    Think of it as 1960s agitprop–the buckets await you in the foyer and you make your contribution or you don’t–and it is no more than the persuaded speaking to the persuaded. But propaganda turns sinister when it pretends to be art. Offering insight into how Jews have got to this murderous pass–the answer is the Holocaust: we do to others what others did to us–Seven Jewish Children finishes almost before it begins in a grotesque tableau of blood-soaked triumphalism: Jews reveling in the deaths of Palestinians, laughing at dying Palestinian policemen, rejoicing in the slaughter of Palestinian babies.

    Churchill has expressed surprise that anyone should accuse her of invoking the blood libel, but, even if one takes her surprise at face value, it only demonstrates how unquestioningly integral to English leftist thinking the bloodlust of the Israeli has become. Add to this Churchill’s decision to have her murder-mad Israelis justify their actions in the name of “the chosen people”–as though any Jew ever yet interpreted the burden of “chosenness” as an injunction to kill–and we are back on old and terrifying territory. And this not in the brute hinterland of English life, where swastikas are drawn the wrong way round and “Jew” is not always spelled correctly, but at the highest level of English culture.

    Again it is important not to exaggerate. Seven Jewish Children has not by any means received universal acclaim. Parodies of it seem to turn up on the Internet almost every day. But there is no postulate so far-fetched that it can’t smuggle itself into even the best newspapers as truth. The eminent Guardian theater critic Michael Billington, for example, took Churchill’s words in the spirit in which they were uttered, believing that she “shows us how Jewish children are bred to believe in the ‘otherness’ of Palestinians.” Jewish children, note. But then it’s Jewish children whom Caryl Churchill paints as brainwashed into barbarity. Without, I believe, any intention to speak ill of Jews, and innocently deaf to the odiousness of the word “bred” in this context, Billington demonstrates how easily language can sleepwalk us into bigotry.

    The premise of Seven Jewish Children is a fine piece of fashionable psychobabble that understands Zionism as the collective nervous breakdown of the Jewish people; instead of learning the humanizing lesson of the Holocaust–whatever that might be, and whatever the even greater obligation on non-Jews to learn it too–Jews vent their instability on the Palestinians in imitation of what the Nazis vented on them. This is a theory that assumes what it offers to prove, namely how like Nazis Israelis have become. Furthermore, it dispossesses Jews of their own history, turning the Holocaust into a sort of retrospective retribution, Jews being made to pay the price then for what Israelis are doing now. Clearly, this exists at a more extreme end of the continuum of willed forgetting than Holocaust denial itself, its ultimate object being to break the Jew-Holocaust nexus altogether. Let us no longer deny the Holocaust, let us rather redistribute the pity. If there is a victim of the Holocaust today, it is the people of Gaza.”

  7. zkharya Says:


    as an intellectual

    Also, is it worthwhile reproducing what I wrote about Rose and psychoanalysis elsewhere?

    Returning to psychoanalysis: Freud did not regard Jewish historical tradition as irrelevant He was not an anti-Zionist. He himself wrote that he could see himself, a physically timid man, dying in defence of the temple. He would have regarded the notion of psychoanalysing the Jewish people as though they had only been born in the 17th century and lived in contextless vacuum, despite living in Christendom and Islam for most of the last 2000 years, as absurd.

    Rose’s problem is that she is, essentially, an English lecturer. That is a very poor position from which to make an historical survey of European or any other Jewish history.

    The same, of course, goes for Caryl Churchill.

    Rose thinks that pyschoanalysis grants her the keys to the kingdom, allowing her, in effect, to reconstruct Jewish history and “psyche” on the basis of alleged psychoanalytical principles. Rather as certain intellectuals e.g. John Game, think they can compensate for their general ignorance of Jewish and other histories by reconstructing it according to general Marxist principles.

    The trouble is, both Marx and Freud were deeply historically minded individuals, both classically educated. Freud set great store by what Jewish tradition had to say about the “Jewish psyche”, as well as the Christian context in which it evolved and developed as European Jewish history.

    I think Rose’s psychoanalysis is as flawed as her history.

  8. Saul Says:

    What is it with this recourse to libel! Johng does it John W does it. Libel this, libel that.

    Note bene,

    The above comment refers to a play not the playwright.

    Comments about plays can rarely, if ever, be deemed libellous.

    The question of whether or not Churchill’s play is or is not antisemitic is the subject of ongoing legitimate discussion. (I am sure Howard Jacobson and the 65 signatories to a letter in the Times would enjoy their day in court as defendants, not to mention the Times itself who would also be sued as the publishers of the alleged libel; not to mention the other papers, journals, blogs, etc. who have carried the discussion and the comments).

    You and others may not think it is antisemitic, other people do.

    Of course, it may simply be that johng wants to close down all criticism of “Seven Jewish Children” by deeming it libel.

    As to the question of characterising play’s antisemitism as “ludicrous” as opposed to libelous; that is of course a different matter and is “fair comment”.

    However, since he has not put forward his own reasons for calling it “ludicrous”, it is hard to know how he has reached that judgement.

  9. jacob Says:

    “Returning to psychoanalysis: Freud did not regard Jewish historical tradition as irrelevant He was not an anti-Zionist.” zkharya

    Here is a far reaching critique of anti-Zionism by the American writer Adam Kirsch which should be better known.

    He argues, as do I, that most anti-Zionism is premised on the notion that there was some golden time in which Jews as deracinated being were able to exercise their genius while living in a world sans frontiers.

    “The idea that Pinsker already recognized as delusive, however, still has the power to seduce. The notion that the Jews do not need a state because they have a universal mission — that it is possible to be a light unto the nations without being a nation — is at the heart of much contemporary Jewish anti-Zionism. In a virulent book called “Overcoming Zionism,” Joel Kovel invokes this theme, writing that “the true glory of being Jewish is to live on the margin and across boundaries.” He goes on to give a familiar catalog of geniuses — Marx, Freud, Proust, Einstein, Kafka, and more — who are alleged to be the fruit of such virtuous deracination.”

    Neither Marx nor Proust were, of course Jewish, though their ancestors were. (Proust, though his mother was Jewish was a practicing Catholic.)

    Kafka moreover became a Zionist towards the end of his life.

    To confront anti-Zionism we have to confront the Romantic myth of a Jewish Golden age in exile which lasted for thousands of years and which was destroyed by Zionism’s narrow nationalism.

    Even a cursory glance at Israel would reveal more as much creativity there, in a half a century of its existence, then in a thousand years of precarious Jewish life in exile.

  10. SevenOtherChildren Says:

    The Guardian will of course take the video of ‘Seven Other Children’ … won’t it …

  11. zkharya Says:

    The odd thing is, elsewhere, Johng calls Zionism reactionary for encouraging Jews to flee persecution.

    Which is exactly what Freud did.

    Freud was not himself a Zionist, but he also conceded that only Palestine could have attracted a Jewish national movement. He was also an imperialist, that saw force as the only arbiter of peace. Nationalism tended in the opposing direction, but was historically inevitable, for the presence, and Marxism would be unable to prevent it.

    In truth, Churchill and Rose have missed a golden opportunity for truly psychoanalysing Jewish and Palestinian Christian and Islamic nationalism, the former squandering it on a squalid polemic.

    What both Rose and Churchill should explain is the roots of the notion of Jews as a national group in exile and dispossessed i.e. a situation not unlike that of Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

    But Churchill’s piece not only does not address this it deliberately, in my view, obfuscates it, but its own anti-Jewish, pro-Palestinian Christian and Islamic nationalist purpose.

    That is art serving as propaganda, the Prosecution presenting its own case for the Defence. It is, in short, Hypocrisy, the literal wearing of a mask.

    Rose seems to think the notion of Jews as nation exiled and dispossessed arose in the 17th century. Which only goes to show that, sometimes, English professors should stick to their field when they cannot be bothered to seriously address history.

    But it is Churchill’s deceit, the mounting of the Defence’s case while professing to be a disinterested Advocate, excising all that is in Zionism’s favour, and asserting that Zionism’s claim to act in its defence is a mask to enact out past trauma, or simply to acquire what does not belong to one i.e. to steal, that is wicked.

    It is antisemitic because it succeeds in attributing to Jews ancient tropes, of baseless evil against the innocent, as well as practising conscious deceit in doing so, while professing to speak on their behalf.

    I think Rose may, to some degree, be an accidental accomplice. Her critique, while deeply flawed, is not so crude or polemical as Churchill’s.

    But, I am afraid, it may be a case of All Luvvies Together. Rose is in the academic English, rather than History, fold. She failed to have her work vetted by academics in the period of Jewish history she chose to use, and compounded her error when she reacted defensively to those more expert who critiqued her.

    The Luvvie English bond is stronger, by far, than the academic Jewish history one.

  12. zkharya Says:

    For Churchill, the notion and experience of Jews as a people exiled and dispossessed is born only in the Holocaust, apparently.

    Only Palestinian Christians and Muslims are implicitly a true nation with territorial rights in the land.

    Suddenly most of Christian and Islamic history vanishes. It is a form of denial, not the same as Holocaust denial, but not unrelated either. But rather than imperil the few Jews who remain in Ashkenazim’s historical home, Europe, it imperils the millions who live afar in the second or largest Jewish community in the world.

    (Loudly professed) love for the few Jews who are near (and the millions perished); hate for the many far off.

    That is why it is antisemitism or, rather, into what the “traditional” antisemitism of the 19th and early 20th centuries has evolved.

  13. jacob Says:

    “For Churchill, the notion and experience of Jews as a people exiled and dispossessed is born only in the Holocaust, apparently.

    Only Palestinian Christians and Muslims are implicitly a true nation with territorial rights in the land.”

    She needs to read Thomas Hobbes as well as Rousseau both of whom among many other political philosphers took it for granted that the Jewish Sinatic experience made of them a nation pledging themselves to a God. (One need not be religious to understand that is what the Biblical text of Exodus is all about.)

    See also Michael Walzer: “Exodus and Revolution”

    To Rose I would quote Saul Bellow who said “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”

  14. Sabato Says:

    Whatever one thinks of Melanie Phillips she does hit the nail on the head with this comment:

    “In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens asks a very simple and very obvious question. Observing the fact that while some 6000 Palestinians (many if not most of them terrorists) have been killed by Israeli fire since the beginning of their Second Intifada against Israel compared with between 25,000 and 200,000 Chechen civilians (in a population about one third or one quarter the size of the Palestinians) who have been killed by the Russians during that period, he wonders why the world merely shrugs in indifference at the brutalities in Chechnya while dwelling incessantly and obsessively upon Israel. ….”

    Here is the Wall Street article alluded to above:

    “Our Selective Moral Outrage Why does Israel face more opprobrium”

    I’d like to see the Guardian stage a play called “7 Russian Children” and J. Rose write a book about “The Problem of Russia.”

    btw: has any one noticed that Rose’s article substitutes Zion for Jew in the title of her book?

    The “Jewish problem” has become the “Zionist problem.”

    Shame on her.

  15. Saul Says:

    Interestingly I was at a talk about Germany and nazism.
    When the speaker talked about early post-war responses to understanding nazism, he cited cases of a specific German character or “psyche”, one predisposed to murder and violence. Everyone (quite rightly) laughed at the naivity and shallowness of such thinking.
    When what amounts to the same thesis is applied to Jews everyone puts on their serious face and considers it a signficant and original insight!!

  16. Kevin Johnson Says:

    Israelis and Palestinians are killing each other, the only difference seems to be that Israel is better at it. Then again, just look at the allies in Iraq, we make them look like amateurs. Perhaps Israel should say that they are bringing democracy to Palestine?

    After decades of war, why don’t we give peace a decent try? The alternative seems to have had much more time and effort.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s