Socialist councillor on Gaza play: 'Censorship of art is not an option'

December 9, 2009

A performance of Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children was to be held at Fremantle's multicultural centre Kulcha in November but was scrapped due to pressure from the Jewish Community Council of Western Australia (JCC). Churchill wrote the play in response to Israel's brutal invasion of Gaza in December and January.

The comments below are based on the contribution to a November 25 Fremantle Council meeting about the censorship by Hilton ward councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright.


I want to congratulate the members of Friends of Palestine WA and the 50 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 led to the effective censoring of this artwork. Amnesty International, who was hosting the play, felt pressured by the venue managers to cancel it after they had been leaned on by the JCC.

In its attack on the play, the JCC resorted to the entirely dishonest charge that it was anti-Semitic. Extraordinarily, the JCC's 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 mother 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 criticised the lobbying efforts of the JCC as "acute but very misguided anxiety". That is just one of the Jewish voices that have rejected the attempt by the JCC to stifle any criticism of the policies of the Israeli government and the recent bombing of Gaza.

The pro-Israel lobby has consistently pretended 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 that deals with both the Holocaust and the dispossession of 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 plaything 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 its refusal to support the legal and moral rights of the Palestinians is a disgrace.

However, the 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 it 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 to avoid controversy is not only doomed to failure, as this episode demonstrates. It's a recipe for promoting art that pleases no one and fails to stimulate reflection.

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

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