At the weekly rally Jan. 14, Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, called on attendees to take action around the latest flashpoint of anti-Israel activism locally.
Earlier in the week, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival announced they were canceling the scheduled presentation of The Runner, a play by a Canadian playwright Christopher Morris. The move followed an earlier decision to cancel the play at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre after a chaotic public meeting and vandalism of the theatre building. (See jewishindependent.ca/canceled-play-should-not-be-canceled.)
The PuSh decision, according to a Jan. 11 statement, was the result of pressure from another festival artist, Basel Zaraa, who threatened to pull his installation, Dear Laila, rather than have it appear at the same festival as a play that he describes as not depicting the “fundamental context of Israel’s occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
“As a Festival, we respect Basel’s perspective,” wrote the festival organizers. “We will honour the artist whose work reflects their lived experience and cancel the presentations of The Runner by Canadian playwright Christopher Morris, whose work is rooted in years of research but who has no religious or cultural ties to the region.”
In the same dispatch, Morris released a statement.
While saying, “If removing The Runner is the only way Canadians can hear Basel’s crucial voice, then there is value in stepping aside,” Morris concluded, “It’s unsettling when Canadian theatres cannot be a space for the public to engage in a dynamic exchange of ideas. I believe theatre must be a place where contrasting perspectives are programmed and celebrated. Now more than ever, we need to listen to each other, engage in different viewpoints, and find our shared humanity.”
The Runner is, Shanken said, “an acclaimed play by a non-Jewish playwright, one that actually talks about the challenge of what’s going on on the ground.”
He told attendees at the Sunday rally that the PuSh Festival’s decision is “a new front” in which “they are trying to silence other voices.”
“When you don’t have the facts on your side, you silence the opposition,” said Shanken. “Each one of us should take a moment today when we get home, write an email to the PuSh Festival. Tell them enough is enough. We ask not for the other play to be canceled but just for our own equal billing. We allow for their voices to be heard, all we ask is for peaceful voices of ours to be heard, too. We ask for nothing but equality.”
The PuSh Festival receives funding from the City of Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia and the Canada Council for the Arts, as well as numerous businesses and foundations. Sponsors of the event can be found on the festival’s website – pushfestival.ca – under “Partnerships.”