YES – ERAN KAHANE, PALESTINIAN SOLIDARITY SOCIETY
This play is not anti-Semitic, it is anti-Zionist. Political theatre is not journalism, it does not claim, nor is it required, to be unbiased. The play presents right-wing Zionism in all its jingoistic racist ugliness. Freedom of expression gives us a right to articulate this political opinion, just like our Zionist peers have the right to perform a play showing the nice side of Israel.
What is happening here is something that non-Zionist Jews are well used to: Our voices being shut down by proponents of Israel with false accusations of anti-Semitism. Five Jewish anti-Zionist students saw the play and had no problem with it, while three Jewish Zionist students saw it and had a problem with it. So is the play more likely to be anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist?
As to the specific lines under scrutiny:
“They’re animals…I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out…we’re chosen people.
“Don’t tell her about the family of dead girls…tell her we killed the babies by mistake…tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies?”
The former does indeed show a genocidal racist hatred. The right-wing of Israeli society absolutely displays these beliefs, including the use of poorly understood Jewish theological concepts to justify their beliefs. In Jerusalem, we have gangs of young men patrolling the streets to beat up Palestinians, at right-wing rallies they sing, “A Jew is a soul, an Arab is a whore’s son,” during the 2014 assault on Gaza there were those who drove to the border to watch bombs drop and cheer. This is a very real and politically powerful part of Israeli society which it is important to expose.
Accusations over the latter seek to connect criticism of the IDF’s brutal military tactics with the historical anti-Semitic blood libel myth. In 2014, the IDF’s indiscriminate bombardment led to the death of over 500 children in one month. There absolutely were dead babies, and Zionist Jewish Israeli parents whose kids see the news have a hard time explaining this away: “Tell her we killed the babies by mistake.” Every week, young Palestinians who go out to protest against the occupation are fired on with live ammunition, and every week we have more death. It is absolutely not blood libel to criticise Israeli policies that lead to the deaths of children.
NO – THE JEWISH SOCIETY
The Jewish Society would like to release a statement on the event organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Society (“PSS”) entitled Seven Jewish Children. The Jewish Society condemns this event in the strongest possible terms. It contains references to strong antisemitic tropes and reflects very poorly on the PSS. Seven Jewish Children is not a play about Israel. The words Israel, Israelis, Zionism and Zionist are not mentioned once in the play, while Jews and alleged Jewish behaviour is core throughout it. We are often told that when people talk about Israel or Zionists, it is mischievous to accuse them of meaning Jews. Now we are expected to imagine that a play that talks only of Jews, in fact, means Israelis.
However, what provides far greater worry for the Jewish Society is the lack of concern regarding antisemitism that is shown by the University of York’s Students’ Union (“YUSU”). The Jewish Society reported the anti-Semitic content of the play hosted by the PSS to YUSU at the earliest opportunity. YUSU responded explaining that it does not operate a ‘no-platform’ policy and that the event had been approved as it was deemed safe. This is a classic, and awful, example of how Jewish concerns are treated with contempt by a student body that claims to have universal anti-racist values.
Despite YUSU’s dismissal of no-platform policies, YUSU has not taken a stand against this play and the antisemitism therein. The Jewish Society finds this approach to be entirely inconsistent with YUSU’s commitment to challenging antisemitism in a serious manner.
The Jewish Society was not contacted by YUSU, or the University regarding this event. In fact, the number of times that the Jewish Society has been contacted by YUSU (including BME officers) or the University about the welfare and safety of Jewish students has been nil. The Jewish Society has been completely alone in the battle against antisemitism on campus. Despite the claims that the University and YUSU take antisemitism seriously, there has been no positive action to do so. The Jewish Society, however, considers actions to be much more indicative than words in this fight against antisemitism.
Jewish students at the University of York are a minority of a minority. Our numbers struggle to reach 30, and yet our welfare is not considered as important as free speech. When the Jewish Society has raised very legitimate concerns of antisemitism on campus, YUSU has refused to act – leaving us alone in the battle against antisemitism. So alone we have been told to report these incidences to the police because YUSU refuses to take action.
The intention of the Jewish Society in publishing this statement is to bring to light the serious failings to look after Jewish students on campus by YUSU and the University. In doing so, the Jewish Society hopes that members of the University community – both students and the administration – become more sensitised and aware of the issues facing Jewish students.