Against Zionism, against censorship, for refugee rights

[As reported in Green Left Weekly #819, a performance of the play Seven Jewish Children that was to be held at the venue Kulcha on November 21 in Fremantle was canceled. It was scrapped following the intervention of the Jewish Community Council (JCC). The comments below are based on the contribution to a November 25 Fremantle Council meeting by Hilton ward councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright.]

I want to congratulate the members of Friends of Palestine WA and the fifty other supporters of Palestinian human rights and free speech who gathered on the footpath last Saturday evening for a protest performance of the play Seven Jewish Children. By now most of you will be aware of the sorry sequence of events that lead to the effective censoring of this artwork. Amnesty International who were hosting the play felt pressured by the venue managers to cancel it after they in turn had been leant on by the JCC.

In their attack on the play the JCC resorted to the entirely dishonest charge that it was anti-Semitic. Extraordinarily their spokesperson even claimed that the play resurrected the medieval “blood libel” myth that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children. The claim of anti-Semitism is a complete fabrication, the play’s script is freely available on the internet and people can judge it for themselves.

I attended the street performance with my partner Janet who is of Jewish origin. Her Mum Dorothy fled fascism in Europe on the eve of the Second World War. She’s a tireless fighter against racism and campaigner for human rights known to many in the Perth activist scene. The Australian Jewish Democratic Society criticized the lobbying efforts of the JCC as “acute but very misguided anxiety.” They are just some of the Jewish voices who have rejected the attempt by the JCC to stifle any criticism of the policies of the Israeli government and the recent bombing of Gaza.

As the pro-Israel lobby has consistently done, it pretends to be sole “owner” of the memory of the Holocaust which in turn it places at the uncritical service of Israel. For it any discussion which deals with both the Holocaust and the dispossession of the Palestinians on the same page, such as this play, is unacceptable. Tragically, by labelling any criticism of the Israeli government and its actions as anti-Semitic, by crying wolf and using the term as a play thing to be wheeled out on a whim; the JCC actually undermines and diminishes the rights of both Jews and Palestinians.

The federal Labor government’s siding with Israel and it’s refusal to support the legal and moral rights of the Palestinians is a disgrace. However our federal member for Fremantle Melissa Parke, who has worked as a UN human rights lawyer in Gaza, was spot on when she told the Fremantle Herald, “I’m acutely aware that there are relatively few avenues in Australia for the Palestinian perspective to be voiced and heard. If not at Kulcha, if not in Fremantle, then where?”

In the spirit of opposition to censorship I’m not suggesting that the council should be telling Kulcha what plays they should or should not host. However we do want Fremantle to be a place that supports a vibrant and diverse artistic scene. Censoring art that some people don’t like in order to avoid controversy is not only doomed to failure as this episode demonstrates, but it’s a recipe for only promoting art that pleases no one and fails to stimulate reflection.

At a time when Palestinians are enduring conditions akin to apartheid or the Warsaw Ghetto, we cannot accept the censorship of a play that attempts to portray the reality of their suffering.

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