The University of York’s students’ union is facing backlash for permitting pro-Palestinian activists to stage a controversial play that has been dubbed by critics as anti-Israeli and — by some — anti-Semitic, the International Business Times reported.
The university’s Palestinian Solidarity Society (PSS) presented the 10-minute play “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza” by Caryl Churchill as part of Israel Apartheid Week (Feb. 22-28).
The play is comprised of seven scenes depicting Jewish parents debating what to tell their child about the world around her. Each scene appears to correspond to a different time period, from the Holocaust, through the formation of the State of Israel and up to modern times and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The play is critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinian people, particularly in the Gaza Strip. It appears to show the Israeli parents as deliberately educating their child to ignore the suffering of the Palestinians and prefering to provide her with a simpler, righteous narrative.
Though it was praised by some upon its debut in 2009, following Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, many critics deemed it to be simplistic and one-sided. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg went so far as to call it “blood libel.” The Board of Deputies of British Jews called the play “horrifically anti-Israel.”
The university’s Jewish society subsequently blasted the student union for allowing the event to take place, with a spokesman saying “This is a classic, and awful, example of how Jewish concerns are treated with contempt by a student body that claims to have universal anti-racist values.”
Union president Ben Leatham denied any malicious intent and said he did not regret allowing the play to be performed.
“A wide variety of student-led events and performances take place on a near daily bases on campus and within the community,” he told the IB Times. “We take our responsibility to uphold freedom of speech seriously and we work hard to get the balance right between protecting our students and supporting them to exercise free speech.”
A spokesman for the university also defended the action, saying “Caryl Churchill is an award-winning playwright whose work has been widely performed…As an institution we are committed to the principles of free speech and freedom of expression.”
Britain’s Royal Court Theatre, which was the first to perform the play in 2009, defended its decision at the time, noting that “It is possible to criticize the actions of Israel without being anti-Semitic.”