The city of Liverpool decided last week to cut funding for a cultural festival featuring the highly controversial play "Seven Jewish Children." The move came after the festival's producers rejected the inclusion of a response piece.
Since its February debut, Jewish leaders have condemned "Seven Jewish Children" as anti-Semitic. The play is said to tie the Nazi murder of Jews during the Holocaust with the killing of Palestinians in Gaza by Israel. It also depicts an Israeli's decision to tell a child not to feel sorry for dead Palestinians.
The play by Caryl Churchill - an accomplished English dramatist and patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign - is scheduled to be performed at the city-funded Writing on the Wall Festival in Liverpool on Tuesday, followed by a fund-raiser for Palestinian causes.
The city said it will halt funding for the festival after the organizers rejected to include a response play to "Seven Jewish Children," entitled "Seven Other Children" by Richard Stirling of Evergreen Theatrical Productions.
Stirling's play uses the same format as Churchill's, but attempts to "help give more context to the debate," as he told Haaretz Saturday. This includes references to the decision by Arab nations and ordinary Palestinians to wage war against Israel in 1948 and in 1967.
In explaining the rejection of Stirling's play, the festival's development coordinator Madeline Heneghan said: "The program is planned months in advance." The request was "unrealistic at this point", she added.
The request to stage "Seven Other Children" came from Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chair of the Zionist Federation, after a festival spokesman told the Jewish Telegraph that organizations wishing to have a "profile" would be welcome at the event's "open" evening.
Stirling - who like Churchill is not Jewish - said: "I would've preferred my play to run alongside 'Seven Jewish Children' rather than having funding cut. I understand there's too little notice, but in light of the public controversy that 'Seven Jewish Children' has aroused, I'd be surprised had the programmers not expected some kind of comeback."
He also said that by not allowing a response piece, the organizers had adopted an attitude which was "at best incautious and at worst severely one-sided."
Hoffman said that "Seven Other Children" "has given us the political ammunition to take on 'Seven Jewish Children' wherever it is performed." Proceeds from "Seven Other Children" will go to OneVoice, a nonprofit committed to a two-state solution while "ensuring Israel's safety and security."
Asked how he feels about his play being used for political purposes, Stirling said: "I am glad certain elements of the Jewish or Israeli community take interest in my piece, but I myself did not start it for the Zionist Federation." Stirling also noted that Churchill is quoted by the Jewish Chronicle and other media as defining her play as "not just a theater event, it is a political event."
Hoffman told Haaretz that "the existence of 'Seven Other Children' was key to Liverpool Council's decision on funding 'Writing On The Wall' and will make other city administrations and funding bodies think hard about sponsoring 'Seven Jewish Children' without a performance of 'Seven Other Children.'"
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