A Tale of Two Cities
1) The Big Smoke won't cloud real issue
LONDON's mayor Ken Livingstone is still in office, a high court judge having halted his suspension, hours before it would have taken effect. The stay of execution represents a partial victory, as Mayor Livingstone seeks a judicial review of last week's decision by the Adjudication Panel for England, the government body supposed to deal with serious disciplinary cases involving local government, over complaints that he offended an Evening Standard reporter who accosed him outside a party.
The case is unlikely to be heard for several weeks. Without the stay of execution, Livingstone would have been obliged to step down today.
The decision of the unelected panel to remove the elected mayor from office for a month was widely criticised. During his suspension the mayor would have been unable to perform duties relating to policing, transport and the Olympics.
Accusing the Evenin Standard of censoring swearing by their reporter from their recording of the exchange, Ken Livingstone also pointed to the way the Board of Deputies of British Jews had seen the case as an opportunity to have a go at him over his criticisms of Israel.
"Some time before this incident was blown out of all proportion the Board of Deputies asked to meet me to urge me to tone down my views on the Israeli government ... I think they saw this as an opportunity for them to try and hush me on it. It hasn't worked".
As we have pointed out in this blog, the Board's moves came with an international campaign by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre condemning Livingstone as an "antisemite" because of his views on the Middle East. Jewish Londoners who wrote telling the US organisation it was wrong were ignored, just as Oslo's Jewish community was ignored when it tried to correct a Simon Wiesenthal Centre report about events in Norway. Rich Uncle in America knows what's good for us.
Many Jewish people, even those who don't share Livingstone's views, are unhappy at the way the Board has lent itself to the campaign, and been instrumental to efforts to dislodge an elected mayor. They say it was at least ill-judged and out of proportion to the supposed offence.
There was supposed to be a demonstration against Ken Livingstone when he spoke at the Hackney Empire last night. It had been thought some of the characters who demonstrated last November against the "Skies Are Weeping" concert might turn out. But maybe the weather was too cold for the Zionists, or having prematurely assumed a victory courtesy of the Adjudication Panel, they had laid their "indignation" to rest. Inside the theatre, after hearing Ken speak, the audience voted by something like two thirds that he should not have been suspended.
The singing star of the "Skies Are Weeping" concert did make a return appearance last night, albeit as a member of the public, contributing from the auditorium this time. In an e-mail to friends last night Deborah Fink writes:
"Well, I've just come back from a bit of BoD bashing which you may wish to hear about.I went to the Hackney Empire to join the counter demo to the demo against Ken. Alas (!) there was no demo against Ken, just people supporting him. Sarah Colborne (PSC) was there and we decided to go in.We sat at the front, but on the side. At the beginning, there was a majority vote that No, Ken should not have been suspended, (was on BBC London News, 10.30pm). At the end, we could ask questions on topics not already covered. Tactically, I then moved to the centre, by chance wearing my orange jumper (works every time!). I said something along the lines of this:
'To return to the issue of Ken's suspension, I would like to say this for the record, and for the press. I am a Jew. You may be aware that the Board of Deputies of British Jews made the initial complaint against Ken. The Jewish community did not elect the BoDs. They do not speak on behalf of most of us. Their agenda, as with the Chief Rabbi, seems to me, to act as an extension of the Israeli Embassy. They seem to want to get rid of Ken as he continually criticises Israel. By continually crying wolf in regard to anti-Semitism, when there is real anti-Semitism, no one will care! Israel wants there to be anti-Semitism so all Jews move to Israel'....... Interrupted by and followed by round of applause".
Applause which I'll echo. I could not have put it better myself, Debbie.
Meanwhile in the Land of the Free...
2) The Big Apple turns sour on Rachel
The flights for cast and crew had been booked; the production schedule delivered; the press announcement drafted and approved; tickets advertised on the internet. The Royal Court production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, the play I co-edited with Alan Rickman, was transferring next month to the New York Theatre Workshop, home of the groundbreaking musical Rent, following two sellout runs in London and several awards.
We always thought that it was a piece of work that needed to be seen in the US. Created from the journals and emails of American activist Rachel Corrie, telling of her journey from her adolescent life in Seattle, Washington, to her death under a bulldozer in Gaza at the age of 23, we considered it, in a sense, to be an American story, which would have a particular relevance for audiences in Rachel's home country. After all, she had made her journey to the Middle East in order "to meet the people who are on the receiving end of our [American] tax dollars", and she was killed by a US-made bulldozer.
But last week the New York Theatre Workshop cancelled the production - or, in their words, "postponed it indefinitely". The political climate, we were told, had changed dramatically since the play was booked. As James Nicola, the theatre's artistic director, said yesterday: "In our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections, we had a very edgy situation." Rachel was to be censored for political reasons.
It makes you wonder. If a young, middle-class, scrupulously fair-minded, and dead, American woman, whose superb writing about her job as a mental health worker, ex-boyfriends, troublesome parents, struggle to find out who she wanted to be, and how she found that by travelling to Gaza and discovering the shocking conditions under which the Palestinians live - if a voice like this cannot be heard on a New York stage, what hope is there for anyone else? The non-American, the non-white, the non-dead, the oppressed?
I'd heard from American friends that life for dissenters had been getting worse - wiretapping scandals, arrests for wearing anti-war T-shirts, Muslim professors denied visas. But it's hard to tell from afar how bad things really are. Here was personal proof that the political climate is continuing to shift disturbingly, narrowing the scope of free debate and artistic expression. What was acceptable a matter of weeks ago is not acceptable now. The New York theatre's claim that the arrangement was tentative is absurd: the truth is that its management has caved in to political pressure, and the reputation of the arts in New York is the poorer for it.
Surely Americans will not put up with this censorship
Katharine Viner, Guardian, Wednesday March 1, 2006
Deborah Fink has written to the Guardian in her capacity as Project Director for the 'The Skies are Weeping', expressing sympathy for Katherine Viner and her co-workers, and noting that Philip Munger's cantata for Rachel Corrie which was the centre-piece of the concert was premiered in London after threats to performers forced the composer to cancel it in his home city, Anchorage, Alaska.
But in case we Brits feel too smug about US censorship, it's worth quoting the subscript Debbie aded to her letter, for the Guardian's editor:
"As the Guardian did not cover the concert, (and rejected an article on it), I feel it could partially compensate by publishing this! (Had the Guardian written something about the concert in advance, more people would have come which would have helped cover our costs)".