By Richard Eden, The Telegraph
Sir David Hare‘s protestations that the central character in his new play, Gethsemane, has nothing whatever to do with Lord Levy have cut little ice with the former Labour fundraiser’s rabbi, Yitzchak Schochet. What is more, he believes that Stanley Townsend’s performance as the character is overtly anti-Semitic.
“Whilst I appreciate satire and the occasional need to poke fun at politics and society, there are certain categorical no-go areas,” Rabbi Schochet tells Mandrake. “It’s yet another example of pushing boundaries to new degrees of crude sensationalism just to keep people remotely interested.”
Sir David makes no reference to the religion of his character Otto Fallon in the text, but several critics have remarked that Townsend portrays him on the stage of the National Theatre in a way that is overtly Jewish. One described him as a “slightly distasteful, anti-Semitic stereotype of Hare’s invention.”
The allegation of anti-Semitism has not been levelled at Sir David before – and, indeed, his wife, Nicole Farhi, the fashion designer, is Jewish – but Schochet says it is undeniable. “This has less to do with my being Lord Levy’s rabbi and a lot more to do with my being a sensitive Jew who is deeply disturbed by growing trends in society,” he says. “Had there been other racial undertones, such as mocking blacks or even the slightest anti-Islamic insinuation, there would have been public outcry. It’s almost as though it is that little bit more acceptable to mock Jews.”
Schochet, who is the rabbi of Mill Hill United Synagogue, in London, goes so far as to say the actor’s performance brings back memories of Nazi Germany. “In a week when many were commemorating 70 years since Kristallnacht, it is a sad and shocking reality that a play can get away with this and even more so that an audience can be entertained by it. This reflects an anti-Semitic undercurrent that is every bit as alive today as it was 70 years ago. Alas, it will doubtless carry on, defying all the supposed progress made in the past years.”
A spokesman for the National vehemently denies that anyone involved in creating the play had any anti-Semitic intent. Sir David declines to comment.
Although he has written plays based on real political events before – such as Stuff Happens – Sir David has insisted that Gethsemane is “pure fiction”. The Fallon character bears other similarities with Michael Levy: like him, he is a former music impresario, and, while the prime minister doesn’t visit his home to play tennis, he does compete with him on his squash court. Levy says he has not yet seen the play.