During the recent Gaza conflict and in its aftermath, it has been open season on Israel across the globe. From a synagogue in Caracas to a Jewish member of my local community in London being set upon by anti-Semitic thugs, there has been a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment that goes beyond criticism of Israel’s military incursions. From the journalist Richard “I don’t read letters from people with Jewish-sounding names” Ingrams to Robert “Israel’s fifty years of shame” Fisk to Bruce “Israel, the serpent in the garden of Eden” Anderson, the Zionist enterprise has been the focus of considerable venom of late. In recent days Ingrams has predicted the demise of the Jewish state and Anderson has prognosticated in similar vein with the obligatory “ethnic cleansing” accusation against those pesky Jews occupying Arab lands.
Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children is described by the Royal Court Theatre as a “play for Gaza” and a “history of Israel.” The playwright herself, a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, has told the world, “Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme.”
My esteemed colleague John Nathan in the Jewish Chronicle says this: “For the first time in my career as a critic, I am moved to say about a work at a major production house that this is an anti-Semitic play.” He is right, and here is my analysis:
This ten-minute piece features a dining room set inhabited by a nine-member Jewish family agonizing over the pros and cons of Zionism. Churchill uses “tell her” as the mechanism by which the evil of the Israeli experiment is revealed to the audience. Never once, of course, do we meet the family of an Arab sniper, suicide bomber, Hezbollah Katyusha rocket-launcher, Hamas missile-maker, or car-bomber whose mother, wives, sisters, and daughters might also have some thoughts about the deeds of their menfolk.
Donald Rumsfeld once referred to Israel as “trying to survive in a dangerous neighborhood — a tiny country you can see in its entirety from the top floor of your hotel in Tel Aviv.” What I found unnerving about this very short polemic was Churchill’s use of the accusations hurled most frequently at Jews around the world as Israel becomes an increasingly militaristic power in the region:
1. The land of Israel was stolen from under the feet of the Arabs and “she [the girl in Churchill's play] doesn’t belong here” because “everyone was driven out.”
Sure, the War of Independence caused upheaval in the region, but one may refer to the narratives of Benny Morris to appreciate that Arab leaders were frightening the local population to take flight because they were told the rapacious Jews would murder them and violate their women. In reality the concept of a Jewish homeland had been simmering for over a century and came to a head with the Dreyfus trial and Emile Zola’s J’Accuse screed.
2. Every Israeli is living in a house that is actually the rightful property of a Palestinian.
This may be true in some neighborhoods but would anyone like to give me back the homes of the long list of relatives whose homes were taken away from them in centuries of Jewish history?
3. Israelis routinely kill babies and children but feel nothing, only “I’m glad it isn’t my child!”
Caryl Churchill obviously does not engage with the Jewish narrative. Anyone born after 1948 knows that Golda Meir said, “Peace will come when the Arabs start to love their children more than they hate us.”
4. Israelis regard Bedouin and other local residents as second-class citizens.
Every nation has racists in its borders, but if the Jews of Israel had been as ruthless and hateful as anti-Zionists like to portray them, would the one million-plus Muslims, Druse, and Beduin not have been driven out or massacred, Rwanda-style, long, long ago?
5. If the average Israeli knew how many Arabs had been killed in the nation’s history they would leave or not have emigrated there in the first place.
This ignores the fact that thousands of Israeli Jews, known as Sabras, have been there for centuries, for example in Piki’in, where the synagogue dates to the time of Jesus.
6. Jews in Israel expropriate Arab water to use for swimming pools.
Again, this is an accusation hurled at Israel by those who wish to demonize every permutation of its social fiber. Palestinians have their own swimming pools. It is not Israel’s practice to help itself to “Palestinian water.”
Dr. Alex Safian, an authority on this topic, says, “Israel obtains roughly 50 percent of its water from the Sea of Galilee and the Coastal Aquifer, both of which are entirely within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Another 30 percent comes from the Western and Northeastern Aquifers of the Mountain Aquifer system.”