H/T Snoopy the Goon
“…what was this audience thinking [watching the Israeli production of ‘Merchant of Venice’]? If it is simply an antisemitic play, why would we be watching it, why is the Israeli National Theatre performing it? And if it is a comedy, why aren’t the jokes funny, and why does Shakespeare offer us a puerile game show rather than some of his usual genius? I don’t think this audience really cared much. It was there to face down those who said that Israeli actors should be excluded from the global community of culture, while actors from all the other states which had been invited to the Globe were celebrated in a festival of the Olympic city’s multiculturalism.” David Hirsh
Guardian Theater critic Lyn Gardner doesn’t hide her contempt for the Jewish state, and seems to possess a rather large blind spot when it comes to antisemitism.
As the prolific Anthony Julius wrote, in a letter published in the Guardian, in 2011:
In Trials of the Diaspora, I argue that Caryl Churchill‘splay Seven Jewish Children is antisemitic…
I had in mind the following lines, among others. “Tell her we killed the babies by mistake / Don’t tell her anything about the army.” “Tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.” “Tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.” “Tell her I don’t care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people.”
In this play, Jews confess to lying to their own children and killing Palestinian children. They also confess to something close to a project of genocide. And they freely acknowledge the source of their misanthropy to be Judaism itself. [emphasis added]
Three of the six passages in Gardner’s May 29th Guardian review of the performance, by Israel’s National Habima Theater, of ‘Merchant of Venice’ (at The Globe in London) was devoted, in some manner, to Palestinians or pro-Palestinian activists who seek the exclusion of Israeli artists.
Here’s Gardner’s opening passage:
“The final image of this production by Israeli company Habima is a stark one. Small and crushed, as if weighed down by history itself, Jacob Cohen’s broken Shylock – a man who has lost daughter, fortune and home – is seen, suitcase in hand, walking away from Venice, an eternal wandering Jew. But it was impossible not to think of other displaced people, too, most particularly the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]
No, of course I don’t expect Gardner to see Shylock and think of the 900,000 indigenous Jews displaced from Arab lands following Israel’s rebirth in 1948, but her passage did cause me to wonder about the following: In the context of the Globe’s Shakespeare Festival (37 plays in 37 languages), which includes plays in, for instance, Turkish, Mandarin, and Urdu (the language of Pakistan), did her mind drift to the national aspirations of the Kurds in Turkey, the ethnically cleansed Tibetans, or the millions of Hindus and Sikhs displaced by Pakistan’s independence?
Moreover, no doubt, Lyn Gardner would insist it’s the Jewish state she objects to, and not Jews as such.
Yet, remember, Gardner was not only undisturbed by Carly Churchill’s Judeophobic agitprop – a work of “art” possessing tropes impugning the very essence of a people and its faith – but, indeed, celebrated the play as a theatric tour de force.
Similarly, in Gardner’s take on a Jewish performance of ‘Merchant of Venice’ (in Hebrew) which, as David Hirsh explained, is, in part, a “story of Shylock, a Jewish money-lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated”, evokes not, for her, the ugly spectacle of antisemitic abuse, nor the antisemitic stereotype represented by Shylock himself, but, rather, the plight of “displaced Palestinians”.
When Jews are pricked it is Palestinians who, in the eyes of many within the British “intelligentsia” and “cultured” class, now bleed.
- Richard Millett: Habima’s Merchant of Venice rocks London’s Globe Theatre (cifwatch.com)
- Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community (David Hirsh, Engage)