Cast of the play, Tales of A City by the Sea, when it premiered in 2014.
Photo: The Age
Photo: The Age
Jewish groups have slammed the VCE authority, claiming it has selected a play for the year 12 drama curriculum that portrays Israel as a "blood-thirsty, evil war-machine" and amounts to "anti-Israel propaganda".
The play, Tales of A City by the Sea, was written by Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian-Australian writer and activist, who supports the BDS [Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions] movement against Israel.
The play premiered in Melbourne in 2014, and will be performed for the second time at La Mama Courthouse, starting on Wednesday.
More than 1,300 students are studying VCE Drama this year.
Set in the Gaza strip during the 2008-09 Gaza War, the story centres around a Palestinian woman living in a Gaza refugee camp, who falls in love with an American-born Palestinian activist and doctor, who arrives on the Free Gaza boats.
It describes life during the war, depicting frequent shelling and "white phosphorous rain".
Characters in the play describe Israeli rule as "tyrannical". One accuses Israel of leading a "massacre" of the the Palestinian people, questioning: "What Holy Scripture gave the command 'Thou shall wipe out their villages and scorch their land?'"
The play is one of six selected for year 12 students studying VCE drama. Students will watch the performance and study the text throughout the year.
Dr Dvir Abramovich, chair of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission, a body raising awareness about anti-Semitism and hate speech, said the play portrays Israel as a "blood-thirsty, evil war-machine", without any explanation for the bombings, or the violence perpetrated by the Palestinian camp.
He took aim at the authority for including the "unabashedly one-sided" play in the curriculum, claiming the content was "anti-Israel propaganda".
"Nowhere to be found is the Israeli perspective ... the suicide bombings inside Israel, the deaths of more than 160 children who were forced to dig tunnels by Hamas, the offers of peace by Israel, the thousands of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza," he said.
"What this play does, amongst other things, is to create a tremendously hostile climate in which any Jewish student who will see the play with their classmates … will be ashamed and worried about expressing any support for Israel or even admit that they have a link with the Jewish state."
Jennifer Huppert, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, echoed these concerns, claiming the play could "create negative views about Israelis and Jews in the classroom".
The playwright Ms Sabawi ... is also a policy advisor to the Palestinian policy network Al-Shabaka [which promotes the Palestinian narrative of “the right of return,” the “Nakba,” the boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) campaign, and regularly features writers who accuse Israel of “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” without featuring alternative views*].
...Most Jewish schools speaking to Fairfax Media are not offering VCE drama this year, and have chosen theatre studies instead.
A Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority spokesman said: "VCAA is confident that VCE drama teachers will focus on the dramatic aspects of the play while providing an even-handed explanation of the political context."
* Other policy advisors to Al-Shabaka include:
- Ameer Makhoul, convicted of spying for Hezbollah;
- Grace Said, organizer a major 2009 Sabeel conference in Washington, DC;
- Ali Abunimah, co-founder and executive director of Electronic Intifada;
- Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI);
- Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, founding member of the BDS Campaign and co-founder and former director of Badil;
- Muhammad Jaradat, co-founder of Badil; and
- Issam Younis of Al-Mezan and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program