Judith Ornstein
Passionately moderate

I’m not yet ready to give London’s Royal Court Theatre a hechsher

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London’s Royal Court Theatre is arguably the historical breeding ground for the UK’s cultural boycott of Israel movement.

Examine the signatories to the 2015 UK Artists for Palestine call for a cultural boycott. Only a small selection are well known and influential but many of that subsection have connections to the Court. Two examples are:-

Current Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone showing as a signatory in 2015 although in a later version her name is missing.

Previous Court artistic director and chief executive Dominic Cooke has been a signatory since the list’s 2015 inception.

Controversial Court productions

Perdition 1987 – abandoned after protests accusing it of antisemitism/antizionism.

Seven Jewish Children 2009 – described by Jewish Chronicle as antisemitic it’s also antizionist. Writer  Caryl Churchill and original director, Dominic Cooke are signed up cultural boycotters.

Hershel Fink (aka Rare Earth Mettle) 2021. Please note the play  displayed antisemitism minus antizionism.

The Court’s website showed  a map of the Middle East with Israel obliterated from at least 2015. It was only changed after 2021’s Hershel Fink brouhaha following a JC exposé using my evidence.

Until Hershel Fink I didn’t notice the Court reaching out to Jewish people and acknowledging our hurt.  Both I and my theatre going friends became used to feeling it wasn’t a safe space.  We’d stopped going.

I want to know why, after so many years, the Court has decided to go in for what feels like a display of virtue signalling. All I can work out is that the mea culpa implicit in the current Jewish play is because Fink is an example of old style antisemitism without antizionism. Those spreading antizionism too often say it’s not antisemitism. Some may be genuine in their belief but they are incorrect. In addition more than a few people use Zionist as a synonym for Jew and then apply to it every antisemitic trope going.

Whether intentional or not antizionism demonises and delegitimises Israel the only Jewish state and thus Jews.   It’s racism against Jews and is covered by the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

The Court has hitherto hidden behind the Zionism/Israel excuse claiming there was no antisemitism. With Hershel Fink they had no such fig leaf, no hiding place.

The Fink play’s Hershel was a fictitious and unpleasant antisemitic trope starting with his name and the Court should have known and organised a deep rewrite.. At an early stage people told them and were ignored.  Those involved in the theatre demonstrated a blind spot to racism directed at Jews and the responsibility is at tbe top. After the outcry they changed the main character’s name to Harry Finn which resulted in much derision from Jewish people because so many of our forebears did something similar. Any Jew could have told them all of this from the get go.

The current play ‘Jews in their own words’ shows that the Court is sorry and/or embarrassed about Hershel. But are they sorry about ‘Seven Jewish Children’  and ‘Perdition’? Have they woken up to how antizionism is antisemitism?

After the JC exposé the Court replaced their Middle East map with Israel missing with a black space. What a shame they didn’t instead replace the map with the reality, ie one showing Israel taking its place amongst all the other nations in the Middle East. Even if it was a panic response, they missed the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to conflict resolution instead of conflict.

Some unanswered questions:

Will the Royal Court Theatre  apologise for its historic antizionist antisemitism?

Do they acknowledge that antizionism is antisemitism?

Crucially, if or when  there’s another episode of antizionism in some way associated with the theatre will they use this new Jewish play to defend themselves against allegations of antisemitism?

There are plenty of London venues untainted by antizionism. Let me commend the Donmar now booking for ‘The Band’s Visit’ which promises to be superb and has much Israeli input.

Were it not at the Royal Court I’d have been delighted to support the talented people involved in Jonathan Freedland’s ‘Jews in their own Words’.

But I have a long memory and right now it feels premature to give the Royal Court a hechsher (kosher certificate).

About the Author
Judith Ornstein is UK and Israel based. She is a passionate supporter of the arts, who combats the cultural boycott of Israel. Judith is the instigator of both the ‘Whitewashed’ and ‘Forced Out’ projects, books and films using primary evidence from witnesses to expose Labour's problems with Jews. Whitewashed book and film, and valuable links can be found at Forced Out Links film and book Companion film here:
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