On Monday I wrote that the Guardian and its Readers' Editor, Siobhan Butterworth, were speaking out of both sides of the mouth on the question of whether Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children is anti-Semitic; and I followed up yesterday by posting a communication to Butterworth from Gaby Charing, criticizing them likewise for fudging the issue. The Readers' Editor has replied to Gaby. I post her response here with the permission of both parties:
No, that's not my point. The Guardian editors in deciding to produce the video obviously took the view the play is not antisemitic - I think that goes without saying. The arguments for and against a reading of the play as antisemitic have been very well-rehearsed and the point of the article was to address the reader's complaint that there is only one conclusion that can be reached about this play. I don't agree and I don't think the text is as clear cut on the question as its opponents suggest. It is not just that there are other readings, the other readings are also compelling. To you this is a fudge, to me it is an honestly held opinion and one which holds water.
Though it's supposed to clarify things, this email seems to me to continue the equivocation that drew criticism in the first place. The Readers' Editor would like to have it both that in the Guardian's judgement the play is not anti-Semitic, and that (as she accepted in her column on Monday by saying that a reading of the play as anti-Semitic was 'one possible interpretation') it is 'one conclusion that can be reached about this play', albeit only one among others. This is not plain speaking. What does it mean to tell a complainant that his interpretation of Churchill's play is 'possible'? One presumes that Siobhain Butterworth could not have intended by it merely that this is something you can say. A possible interpretation of King Lear on that understanding is that it's a comedy about geese taking over an arts cinema; a possible interpretation of Blood Meridian is that it chronicles the activities of Florence Nightingale. These are not in fact possible readings of the two works except in the sense that it's possible to say anything about anything.
Butterworth's 'possible', both in her Guardian piece and in the way she answers Gaby Charing here by suggesting there is more than one reading of the play, says something else. She knows there is an interpretation of Seven Jewish Children as anti-Semitic which is viable, for which pertinent evidence can be adduced, which is possible in this rather more robust sense. But she and the Guardian hope to be off the hook merely because one may interpret it differently.
Not to repeat myself at length but Churchill's egregious play presents Jews - her choice of word - as usurpers, as powerful, as ruthless, racist and child-killers, and Butterworth and the paper she works for think that that's OK because you could read it otherwise. Yes, you could. You could say, well, it's only about Gaza, and overlook these tropes, and the way Churchill has attached them to Jews, and the way they echo ancient accents in Jew-hatred. I suggested in what I wrote before that it's unthinkable the Guardian could have had so indulgent an attitude to a play with several familiar tropes of anti-black-racism, and unthinkable is what it is. Their standpoint on this and the Readers' Editor's willingness to cover for it are not only a fudge; they are contemptible.