LONDON: More than 170 actors, writers and producers have spoken out against the withdrawal of a prestigious lifetime award from British playwright Caryl Churchill over her support for Palestinian rights.
Churchill, 84, is widely regarded as one of the most influential contemporary British dramatists. Her 10-minute play “Seven Jewish Children” was written in 2009 in response to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which killed at least 1,383 Palestinians, including 333 children, according to Amnesty International.
In April, Churchill was awarded the 2022 European Drama Prize by German theater company Schauspiel Stuttgart.
However, the €75,000 ($78,000) prize, the biggest in Europe, was rescinded in October because of the playwright’s support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
In a statement, the jury appointed by Stuttgart said Churchill had been selected for the award “in recognition of her life’s work. However, we have meanwhile become aware of the author’s signatures in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
“The play ‘Seven Jewish Children’ can also be regarded as being antisemitic. Therefore, to our great regret, the jury has decided not to confer the prize this year,” it said.
Petra Olschowski, Germany’s state secretary in the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, supported the decision, the Guardian newspaper reported.
“In Germany, we have a special historical responsibility. That is why we as a country take a clear and non-negotiable stance against any form of antisemitism. This is all the more reason why a prize funded by the state cannot be awarded under the given circumstances,” Olschowski said.
Harriet Walter, Stephen Daldry, Juliet Stevenson, Stephen Frears, Richard Eyre, Peter Kosminsky and Dominic Cooke are among those who signed an open letter, organized by Artists for Palestine.
The letter, which was published on Thursday, said: “This attack on freedom of conscience is nothing less than modern-day McCarthyism, and raises urgent questions about a pattern of intimidation and silencing.
“If the only forms of art deemed ‘safe’ for institutions are those that have nothing to say to the dispossessed and oppressed of this Earth and that are silent in the face of state-sanctioned repression, then art and culture are emptied of meaning and value.”
Cooke, associate director at the UK’s National Theatre, added: “The confected outrage about Caryl’s play was designed to divert attention away from this fact and scare possible critics of it into silence, but drawing attention to Israel’s human rights abuses and its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory is not antisemitic, it is legitimate protest.”
The letter was also supported by leading human rights barrister Geoffrey Bindman KC, the Guardian reported.
In response to the cancelation of the award, Churchill said that she stood by her support for BDS and Palestinians, the newspaper reported.
“It is critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians; it is not an attack on all Jews, many of whom are also critical of Israeli policy. It is wrong to conflate Israel with all Jews. A political play has made political enemies, who attack it with slurs of antisemitism,” she said.