Some Jewish creatives feel they have no choice but to hide their ethnic identity when starting a new job. Others quietly drop friends spouting antisemitic tropes on social media.
One actor told me yesterday: ‘My friends who I have worked with for years, and who consider themselves the good guys, are blind to antisemitism. It broke my heart and I’ve left the arts full time now because of it.’
Another said: ‘I’ve been told to my face by my colleagues that I shouldn’t bring my kids up Jewish as its not fair on them. The theatre industry collectively rolls their eyes at Jews when we speak out about racism when they, rightly, fall over themselves to stand in solidarity with other marginalised communities.’
It is hard to put your head above the parapet when antisemitism remains the cool, acceptable racism; when speaking out against it could lose you work in a notoriously insecure industry. No one wants to be seen as the pushy, trouble making Jew, questioning people’s assumptions that they are the good guys.
The Royal Court scandal isn’t a one off – earlier this year several Jewish actors resigned from their union Equity because of its anti-Zionism – but this case was so egregious and so obviously antisemitism not just anti-Zionism, that after the outrage was pointed out on Twitter, it apologised for its, cough, ‘mistake’.
The theatre, which has a history of staging antisemitic work – Perdition and Seven Jewish Children both started there – claimed ‘unconscious bias’ had led to a megalomanic billionaire baddie in its latest production being given the most Jewish of names; Hershel Fink.
Now there are certainly a few megalomanic billionaires who do happen to be Jewish; but Elon Musk, who this play is based on, isn’t one of them. And when you watch the show’s trailer about ‘money, power and land appropriation’ which zooms in on the lead actor Arthur Darvill’s famously big nose, you can’t help thinking that this is a show which was designed to hone in on the ‘unconscious bias’ of its audience. Or, to be blunt, this was antisemitism encouraging antisemitism.
Unconscious bias is very ‘progressive’ form of racism. It is passive – no one’s fault. But any writer will tell you, the name of a protagonist in a play isn’t generally something you just reach for. There is nothing unconscious about choosing a Jewish name. It was thought about; deliberate.
Not only that, but a play is read by dozens, probably hundreds of people before it goes from pen to stage; producers, actors, directors, crew. At a time of rising awareness of racism, how antisemitic does an entire organisation need to be that no one seemed to think this was problematic? Or is it that – as is rumoured – some people did see it as problematic and their complaints were ignored?
In April the Royal Court theatre signed up to an anti-racism organisation called Sour Lemons. There was much patting itself on the back that it would now be even better than it was before. The theatre’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone wrote: ‘This timely, critical and deep work will help us listen, reflect, learn, grow be challenged, be visibly changed, and be held accountable.’
Hating Jews is the one racism people are still allowed in progressive circles, which tripped over itself to kneel for Black Lives Matter but happily ignored or even encouraged the antisemitism surrounding Jeremy Corbyn.
It is not unconscious but a wilful bias. The Royal Court antisemitism scandal isn’t a one off but endemic of an industry, of a section of society, which thinks its good (good enough to tell the rest of us how to live) but which happily perpetuates the same anti-Jewish tropes as every other antisemite in history.