The play Seven Jewish Children last night achieved the effect its writer no doubt intended when it provoked passionate and diverse views from a panel of Jews and Palestinians.
Palestinian lawyer and author Randa Abdel-Fatteh described it as remarkable and courageous in exposing “the distorted logic” used to justify the dispossession of the Palestinians.
She also found it beautiful and heart-breaking, yet offering “a cause for hope”.
Self-described Zionist and Monash University Jewish scholar Michael Fagenblat said that while he did not find the play anti-Semitic, as some overseas critics had claimed, he referred to “the sentimental psychologising of the play”.
The device of a child standing for an expose of the morality of the the Jewish people was “frankly childish”, he said.
Jewish actress Miriam Margolyes was one of five actors reading the voices of an Israeli parent and a friend about how much to tell a child about Israel’s actions. They delivered such coded lines as: “Tell them we’re better haters”, “Tell her dead or alive, her family love her”, “Tell her it is the land God gave us.”
An exultant Ms Margolyes said after the panel discussion that followed the reading: “It gives you hope that we can talk to each other across these divides.”
She said she believed Israel had lost its way, but to rousing applause added: “I’m not a politician, I’m just a really good actress.”
It was also a triumph for lobby group Australians For Palestine, the Melbourne organisers of the controversial work by British playwright Caryl Churchill, that the reading went ahead.
Margolyes, whose participation had brought a backlash from a Jewish welfare organisation, said last night that the State Library was to be applauded for taking the booking. “People tried to stop it,” she said.
An hour before the doors opened last night, another effort was made to derail the performance when about 35 members of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students demonstrated outside.
They held a heated exchange with Palestinian supporters, who yelled “Free Palestine” and “Down, Down, Israel” and tried to rush the blocked door of the theatre.
Union president Stefan Oberman said: “We believe there is a need for informed debate.”
But he said he would not want to take part in the debate inside the theatre as “it is so blatantly one-sided”.
A long queue gathered for the performance, with many people turned away.
And once again, we see the Zionist community utterly incapable and unwilling to even engage with the issues.