Tony Greenstein's first polemic on "Perdition"

Submitted by martin on 10 May, 2012 - 11:39

Jim Allen is accused of being "vainglorious, boastful" and the campaign against the banning of Perdition is described as being "smart" and "disingenuous" ("The Perdition Affair" by John O'Mahony, WL6).


The "Perdition" Affair

Far be it from me to accuse John O'Mahony of these sins, despite setting himself up as some form of expert on the subject under discussion. But where O'Mahony is wrong is when he equates freedom of speech for anti-Zionists and socialists with the right of those who disagree with Perdition to campaign for its banning. It's like saying that a film on police violence against pickets or MI5 on TV can only expect the state to react and seek a ban and those who seek to oppose such a ban are 'smart' and 'disingenuous'.

Of course the State will seek to ban that with which it disagrees. as it did over 'Real Lives' or indeed the refusal of the BBC to reshow Jim Allen's plays including the award winning 'Days of Hope', but since when do marxists recognise such bans as merely something to he expected? We campaign against them precisely because the prevailing ideas in this society are anti-socialist and freedom of speech means our freedoms, those of the vast majority of people in this country. So too with Perdition.

Who was it who was campaigning for a ban if not the most reactionary sections of the political establishment? Lord Goodman in 'The Standard' a paper well known for its antiracism), the 'Independent', the 'Mail' and 'Sun', Martin Gilbert (biographer of Churchill) in the 'Telegraph' and a leader in the same paper (the Telegraph opposed in anti-Semitism!?) Finally, in the 'Times', no less than Bernard Levin takes an identical position to that of O'Mahony: Perdition is anti-Semitic. but he defends its right to be staged. This is the same 'Times' which at present is defending Nazi war criminals on the run in Britain and accusing those who wish to see them hunted down at pursuing 'vendettas'.

Likewise the overwhelming majority of the media treats the Palestinians as terrorists and a problem. The Israeli state is still treated as the David of the Middle East, the Israeli state as democracy, and Zionist figures like Ben-Gurion with awe and respect. Films and documentaries deal with the Holocaust through the prism of Zionist hindsight with the message being that a Jewish state would have prevented catastrophe.

Perdition ran contrary to all this which is why there was a massive Zionist campaign for it to be banned. This campaign included many non-Jewish Zionists, people like Conor Cruise O'Brien and other reactionaries, who would never lift a finger to fight racism but who were willing to speak out against Perdition.

The only time we would support a ban was if Perdition was a play attempting to incite racial hatred. It doesn't. O'Mahony knows it doesn't, as do its mainly Jewish cast and the many Jews - Holocaust survivors included - who support its being shown.

O'Mahony argues that Perdition argues that Zionism needed an extra million dead Jews in order to achieve statehood. It doesn't, indeed it says quite the opposite. What it does do is show the mixture of Zionist fatalism, opportunism, cynicism and 'realpolitik' that led the Zionist movement to obstruct the efforts of others to mount rescue campaigns at the critical time.

Comparisons of Perdition with stage-managed Moscow trials or blood-libel feudal-Christian anti-Semitism are absurd. Why not compare it with the trial on which it is based, that of Kastner, where Kastner too failed to put up a defence? In making this absurd judgement, which the Jewish Chronicle immediately picked up on, O'Mahony fails to deal with the substantive material of the play. He doesn't ask what type of movement it is that obstructs rescue in the West by insisting on Palestine as the only destination for Jews, which concluded an economic transfer agreement with Nazi Germany, which sees a 'divine hand' in anti-Semitism even today. that separates out Jews from non-Jews in Israel today in just the same way as European anti-Semites sought to do with Jews.

The intemperate attack on Perdition can only give sustenance to those who seek to portray Zionism as some form of national liberation movement rather than a danger to Jews and Arabs alike.

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