Play about an­ti­semitism is met by wave of abuse

The Observer - - News - Har­riet Sher­wood Re­li­gion Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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