Play about antisemitism is met by wave of abuse
A new play about rising antisemitism that opens in a London theatre this week has become the target of antisemitic abuse. One Jewish Boy by Stephen Laughton focuses on the relationship between a Jewish man and a mixed-race, non-Jewish woman, their experiences of hatred and abuse, and the impact on their marriage. “It’s about big themes on a domestic level,” Laughton said.
Since publicity for the play was launched in September, Laughton has been targeted with abuse on social media, and posters for the production have been defaced and torn down. Palestinian flags were posted online in response to mentions of the play. Among the comments were: “Who cares about Jews?”; “Perhaps you could write a play about Palestinian kids getting blown to pieces by Jews”; and “You Jews disgust me”.
Laughton said: “I expected something, but I didn’t anticipate they’d come for me. I’m worried there’ll be more antisemitism when the play opens, and that it could become physical.” The Community Security Trust, which protects and defends British Jews, had been consulted.
Laughton said he had wanted to write about antisemitism for some time as he had watched friends – mostly liberal Jews who are critical of the Israeli government’s policies – become more fearful about rising tensions and overt abuse.
“The play has been written from a place of tangible fear. Things that were on the fringes of the far right and the far left started creeping in to the mainstream.
“In the last few years it seems like people feel they have permission to be antisemitic,” he said. “You see it in our politics, on our social media, with our
kids getting beaten up on the streets. I wanted to chart that.”
His main character, Jesse, is a “nice Jewish boy from north London” who falls in love with a woman who has also experienced hatred, but from a different perspective.
Jesse is the victim of a violent attack in which he is branded a “dirty fucking Jew”. The play focuses on the impact of that on him and his partner, and the conflation of diaspora Jews with Israeli government policy.
Laughton said his Jewish identity was of central importance to him. He belongs to Liberal Judaism, a small, radical denomination, and is “historically a Labour party supporter”. He described himself as a “romantic Zionist” with an attachment to the Jewish homeland but is highly critical of blockades and settlements. Sarah Meadows, the play’s director, said she had been “shocked at how aggressive” the antisemitic abuse had been. But, she added, “there’s a realistic message of hope at the end of the play. We can overcome these differences. We can find a way to communicate.”
One Jewish Boy opens on Tuesday at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington
Asha Reid and Robert Neumark Jones star in One Jewish Boy.