UK theater apologizes for antisemitic character, but critics say problem goes deeper

Royal Court theatre conducts internal investigation after antisemitic character sparks backlash, but some British Jews believe it’s too little, too late.

By World Israel News Staff

After formally apologizing to the Jewish community for a character in a play who was depicted as a greedy capitalist and had a stereotypical Jewish name, a London theater released the results of a report examining antisemitism within the institution.

Last week, the Jewish Chronicle discussed the report with the Royal Court’s Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone, who said she was previously unaware that many British Jews in the country’s theater scene feel that the industry is riddled with antisemitism.

The Royal Court controversy erupted in November 2021, when the character of an immoral billionaire, who pillages precious natural resources from native Bolivians, was given the name Hershel Fink in an upcoming play.

At first, the Royal Court denied that the character could be linked with antisemitic stereotypes, claiming they were unware that the name had Jewish connotations.

Several prominent British Jewish celebrities challenged the theater’s response on social media.

“The Royal Court claims they didn’t realize ‘Hershel Fink’ was a Jewish name. Hmmm. Somehow it just sounded so right for a world-conquering billionaire,” comedian David Baddiel wrote on Twitter.

Soon afterwards, the theater apologized and changed the character’s name, then launched an internal investigation examining its attitude towards antisemitism.

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“The big learning for me has been about how few Jewish artists have felt that they can be out about their Jewishness with their work at the Royal Court and in other areas of culture,” Featherstone told JC.

The fact that “people in theater often feel uncomfortable in disclosing that they are Jewish” absolutely shocked her, she said. She pledged that the Royal Court would make different choices moving forward.

However, some British Jews have noted that previous incidents suggest antisemitism may be deep-rooted in the theater.

“We made it clear that this was not seen by our community as a one-off incident,” said UK British Jewish organization the Board of Deputies.

“Instead, this was one in a series of terrible decisions made over the last 35 years, and to fail to acknowledge that would be extremely unwise. We also stressed that the theatre would need to properly reach out to the Jewish community in order to help fix its reputation.

“Today’s report appears to have been a missed opportunity to both properly acknowledge the past and set out a vision for the future.”

In 2009, the Royal Court hosted the premier performance of Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza. The play was widely viewed as promoting antisemtic blood libels.

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“The mainstreaming of the worst anti-Jewish stereotypes — for instance, that Jews glory in the shedding of non-Jewish blood — is upon us,” wrote Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg at the time.