Yet more censorious Jews, this time in Western Australia

This website has documented over the years the litany of events, talks, shows, media and individuals who have been bullied by the Zionist lobby to not speak out over Palestine or simply temper their opinions.

The play “Seven Jewish Children” seems to have caused many Jews to act irrationally. Complaining about the work, however irrational this position may be, is utterly justified. But trying to ban performances is not.

The latest dramas are in Western Australia where the local Zionist establishment has spent time trying to silence those behind the play.

Now, in an exclusive report for this site by Victoria Martin-Iverson from Friends of Palestine, we hear the full story. It speaks for itself:

“The power of art to open us to the subjectivities of others is especially threatening to those who insist on a single narrative”

Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon

Four days from opening night and finally the Perth chapter of Friends of Palestine WA receives official approval from the town of Vincent city council to stage a production of Caryl Churchill’s provocative “7 Jewish Children”.

With a professional cast, and in the capable hands of director Vivienne Glance we hope to be able to deliver on our promise to stage a sensitive and thought-provoking reading of an important piece of contemporary theatre. While we knew from the outset we would receive resistance, the actual struggle to get this play staged in Perth has been nothing short of a veritable melodrama.

Over a year ago, the local Jewish Community Council spokesperson, Steve Lieblich, successfully pressured both Hale school and Kulcha (Perth-based theatre venue that was to host an Amnesty International production), into cancelling their intended performances. Refusing to cede to what we regarded at the time as inappropriate tactics and a clear assault on freedom of speech, we succeeded in getting several articles defending the right of Perth audiences to hear the play published in the local community paper “The Voice”. We also staged a protest reading of the play on the steps of Kulcha. Some 60 plus supporters witnessed this guerrilla performance, and several dozen bemused passers by.

Our resolve to bring a professional production of the play to Perth audiences was hardened when journalist David Bell revealed that a major local theatre’s director had admitted to sending scripts to Mr Lieblich for approval prior to staging it to determine if there was any suggestion of sensitive content. So here we had a situation where a confirmed Zionist and pro-occupation supporter was being given the right to vet local drama productions. How extraordinary to have public confirmation of secret censorship of perfectly legal material to promulgate one political point of view around issues of paramount contemporary importance to the broader public. We felt this unacceptable situation had to be challenged, and that we could not countenance the silencing of legitimate voices, just because it is a point of view at odds with that held by the Jewish Community Council of Perth.

Director Vivienne Glance agreed to put together a cast and participate in a reading of the play, to be followed by a screening of the debate that took place in Melbourne last year, and perhaps a panel discussion on Artistic Freedom and Responsibility.

Having tired of using the rather austere lecture rooms at the University for most of our public talks and film screenings, we decided upon the stately North Perth Town Hall. In March, we duly booked the hall in the name of Friends of Palestine and indicated we would be using it for a play. We began our usual promotion, and it is certainly likely the JCC became aware of the proposed production at this time. We are not entirely certain when they first began their campaign to shut us down.

Four weeks from opening, I sent out a raft of media releases to announce the Perth premiere of Caryl Churchill’s confronting but compelling “7 Jewish Children”.

On Monday April 19, a journalist from “The Voice” contacted us about doing a small feature on the play. He also rang Vincent Council offices and asked if they knew the play had a controversial history in Perth. Clearly angling for a story mired in controversy, this set in motion a chain of unfortunate events. That same day at 4:30 the town council’s booking officer sent a terse email saying the booking was cancelled due to safety concerns due to “electrical problems” from storm damage. This was an interesting rationale as I was aware the hall was in daily use by after school care. I suspected that either the Council was more concerned about the welfare of supporters of Palestine then children, or we had been misled as to the reasons the booking was cancelled.

I subsequently contacted this staffer to enquire about the hall’s availability and was informed I could book it the same weekend the play was scheduled. No mention to a mere member of the public about electrical problems. Neither the cashier at the council offices who accepted my payment for the FOPWA booking nor the man running the weekly square dance lessons were aware of any storm damage.

We subsequently raised this bit of “intelligence” with the staffer and were rudely informed the booking was revoked and that was that.

I provided the journalist with all the relevant info, contacted various government officials, arts’ groups, the ombudsman etc. I also informed the booking agent and the town’s CEO, that I would initiate a freedom of information act petition to source the electrical problem’s exact nature from the engineers that must surely have been consulted about a problem so significant it would remain unresolved for several months. I also suggested that I would likely forward any subsequent relevant complaint through to the ombudsman as it appeared that a legitimate community organization was being discriminated against and lied to by an employee of local government. That Wednesday, a helpful staffer from the Office of the Minister for Local Government confirmed their calls to Council revealed there was no problem with the Hall and the CEO of Vincent was making a final decision on Friends of Palestine’s use of the Hall very shortly.

On Thursday, “The Voice” carried a front page article on the banning, yet again, of Churchill’s play in Perth.

To his credit, CEO Mr Giorgi re-instated the booking, agreed the cancellation had been inappropriate and that it was not the role of local council to act as censor, and that there are legal instruments to determine if the content of a theatrical production breached racial vilification laws. We heaved a collective sigh of relief and got on with the business of promoting the play. Then just a week ago we were told the JCC had been lobbying council and were to present a petition appealing to the councilors to rescind permission for the play to be staged. So just over a week before the staging we were scrambling to get more letters of support and secure permission to make a plea to council to uphold basic democratic values of free speech and artistic freedom and allow citizens of Perth to hear this alternative narrative of the shared reality of Palestinians and Israelis.

The prospective director of the play, Vivienne Glance , contacted the West Australian newspaper’s arts editor regarding the debacle. On the morning of the council meeting the largest daily newspaper in WA carried a full page on the issue; a feature article and two editorials supporting free speech.

Tuesday some fifteen or more supporters of Friends of Palestine attended the Council meeting to petition the elected officials to reject the motion from the JCC. Our convener, Alex Whisson, pointed out we had booked the hall for a legitimate and legal purpose and in good faith. Mr. Whisson applauded the courageous and principled stand the Town had taken in defense of free speech, and made mention of the fact the play was a sensitive rendering of not only the current privations of the Palestinians, but also the suffering and trauma of the Jewish people. To suspend the production based on erroneous interpretations of the play by a representative of the JCC (who publically admitted he had not even read it) was censorship and denied us natural justice. Today the Council has agreed our booking can stand, as no legal basis exists to cancel it.

Now we need to ensure that while we continue to battle for the basic right to express our opinion regarding the on-going crisis in Palestine, we do not lose sight of the focus of our efforts: to secure a lasting and just peace for Israeli’s and Palestinians.

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