May 11, 2009
By Bruce Demara
Toronto doesn’t – and shouldn’t – have power to interfere in program, Mayor Miller says
B’nai Brith Canada is demanding that Toronto Mayor David Miller have a play it considers anti-Semitic pulled from city-owned Theatre Passe Muraille.
But Miller said yesterday he doesn’t have the power to withdraw the play. “We own the building, but we don’t determine what theatre groups in this city play, nor should we. I haven’t seen B’nai Brith’s complaint. … I prefer to comment after I’ve seen it.”
Seven Jewish Children, a 10-minute play written by British playwright Caryl Churchill, has already generated controversy in the U.K. and in Australia. The play had a recent reading in English and French in Montreal, and was presented on CBC Radio on Sunday.
B’nai Brith officials say the play unfairly demonizes Jews worldwide and Israel for that country’s recent invasion of Gaza, which resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths.
“Jews who were once the victims, according to this drama, have now become the callous oppressors of another group and are totally disregarding the suffering,” said Anita Bromberg, the Jewish advocacy group’s national director of legal affairs. “It’s not necessarily up to us to demand that such things never see the light of day … but there has to be some understanding and some appreciation of the complexity of the issues.” Given that the theatre is owned by the city, Bromberg said it isn’t appropriate to hold the reading there.
The “staged reading” of the play is part of the Directors’ Showcase and Exchange from May 15 to 17, featuring the works of three recent graduates of the National Theatre School of Canada’s director program, co-sponsored by Crow’s Theatre.
In a statement, Crow’s Theatre artistic director Chris Abraham defended including the play.
“Of course, we understand the provocative nature of the piece and that others are entitled to their opinions, but we hope and expect that the audience for our showcase and exchange will have the opportunity to form their own significant and meaningful responses to this challenging work,” Abraham said.
There is division within the Jewish community, as evidenced by the support of one organization, Independent Jewish Voices, for the staging.
“(The play) is not a simplistic portrayal, there’s a lot of nuance … and there are voices in the play that do seem to express anguish and conflict and grief over what’s happened (in Gaza). So it’s certainly not a simplistic or stereotypical portrayal,” said spokesperson Andy Lehrer.
Lehrer condemned Israel’s invasion of Gaza, spurred by persistent rocket attacks on Israeli territory from the tiny Palestinian-controlled territory. “Somehow, the Gaza war is the only war in history in which you’re not allowed to talk about children dying,” he said.