“This is not education – this is propaganda”

May 10, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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The principal of Melbourne’s largest Jewish day school has hit out at the selection of a play set in Gaza centred around the 2008-09 Gaza War for this year’s Victorian Certificate of Education exams.

“Tales of a City by the Sea” was written by Palestinian-Australian-Canadian Samah Sabawi and will have its second run in Melbourne, opening this week.
The play depicts life in Gaza, where Sabawi was born, during the 2008-09 war and depicts Israeli rule according to The Age as being “tyrannical” with characters accusing Israel of carrying our “massacres of the Palestinian people”.
Samah Sabawi

Samah Sabawi

A spokesperson for the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority told J-Wire: ” The VCAA has a rigorous process for selecting plays involving an expert panel consisting of drama educators from across schools, industry and universities assessing plays against set criteria, before making recommendations for VCAA Board endorsement. 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.”

But Rabbi James Kennard, the principal of Melbourne’s Mount Scopus Memorial College said: “A Jewish student at a non-Jewish school, confronted by a one-sided play such as this that inaccurately presents Israelis as monstrous committers of genocide, with no explanation as to why Israel needs to take action against Hamas’s attacks or why Israel needs to maintain a blockade against military equipment, will certainly feel vulnerable to anti-Zionist or anti-semitic abuse. This play, especially if presented as part of the school curriculum, denies all students, Jewish or not, the right to create their own informed opinion regarding such a prominent and sensitive area of conflict. This is not education; it is propaganda.”
Rabbi James Kennard

Rabbi James Kennard

President of The Jewish Community Council of Victoria Jennifer Huppert said: “Based on the excerpts I have seen, this appears to be a very one-sided depiction of what is an extremely complex situation, and does not provide any understanding of the background to the Israel-Gaza conflict.  The play’s biased depiction of the conflict has the potential to create negative views about Israelis and Jews in the classroom, which does not contribute to our Multicultural society.“

Liberal State Member of Parliament David Southwick told J-Wire: “The selection of a play, which contains anti-Israel propaganda, is deeply concerning and raises serious questions of the Andrews Government’s selection criteria for VCE study materials. The play encourages hatred from the audience towards Israel. It is unacceptable that Victoria, the so-called ‘Education State,’ is teaching the demonisation of Jews, including in the classroom which would disadvantage a Jewish student.”
A spokesperson from Bialik College added: “It doesn’t disadvantage our students – Bialik students are not studying the play. It is one of the options on the playlist.”
Federal Labor MP Michael Danby whose electorate is within Melbourne said that “the VCE drama is out of touch”.
The VCAA provided the following background to the play selection process:
  • Schools choose one of six plays on the Playlist to attend based on their own judgement regarding the relevance and accessibility of the listed plays to their students. Schools are not required to attend Tales of a City by the Sea.
  • The focus of study in VCE Drama is on the play in performance and the use of non-naturalistic theatrical styles and devices; the themes and issues of the plays provide a context for the drama but are not the focus of study.
  • “Tales of a City by the Sea” principally focuses on universal themes of human relations in a hostile environment rather than on issues of political power.
    The play Tales of a City by the Sea was submitted for consideration by the selection panel for the VCE Unit 3 Drama Playlist by La Mama Theatre.
  • La Mama Theatre is nationally and internationally recognised for its continuous support and promotion of contemporary Australian drama for a period of nearly 50 years.
  • The selection panel comprises 14 experienced drama educators drawn from across the Victorian school sectors, the industry and universities. The selection panel apply a set of criteria approved by the VCAA Board in order to select plays for the Playlist.
  • These criteria include a requirement that selected plays are appropriate for the age and development of students, reflect community standards and expectations and meet school-sector guidelines.
  • The selection panel submits its recommended Playlist to the VCAA Board which authorises the final selection.
  • Following approval by the VCAA Board, the 2016 Playlist was published in November 2015. No queries were received about the inclusion of Tales of a City by the Sea, which was previously performed in 2014, receiving good reviews from independent theatre reviewers. The script has been publicly available online for some time.
  • Preliminary 2016 figure for enrolments in VCE Drama is 1,373.
  • In making decisions on the Playlist, VCAA takes into account the age and maturity of VCE students.
  • VCAA considers that the play has genuine dramatic merit as an example of contemporary theatre, and is worthy of study by VCE Drama students.
  • La Mama organises performer and student forums as part of the experience that focus on performance styles and the craft of the performers. These forums do not involve discussion of political issues.

J-Wire has asked Samah Sabawi to respond to the criticism that her play is propaganda.


13 Responses to ““This is not education – this is propaganda””
  1. Hilary Rubinstein says:

    The comment above by the Bialik College spokesperson begs the question “Why, if Jewish day school teachers knew this play was on the VCE curriculum, did they not inform the ECAJ, JCCV or ADC?” The inclusion of the play on the curriculum seems certainly sleight of hand, and appears to indicate just how treacherous the Israel-demonising Left is and how unconscionable was the apparent failure to consult with the Jewish community on this issue. The first mention of this play, as far as I can see, was on the Daphne Anson blog in April. That blog by a screenshot shows how triumphant (well, naturally) the play’s author is to have got her work exposed to so many impressionable young minds (and another post days later on the same blog shows how another Jewish day school’s VCE students were taken to a poetry reading at which the same playwright read out a work of “resistance”).
    That the Jewish communal leadership was unaware of this development and that the AJN had not sussed it out seems rather disturbing. Something about stable doors and bolting horses comes to mind.

    • Larry Stillman says:

      Would you like me to provide bracken, kerosene, a stake, and a match? Or bring Roy Cohn back to life?

      • john nemesh says:

        Grow up Larry.

        As a Labour Zionist I can see maybe 50 other instances where we as humanitarian jews could have been involved in expressing “admirable”qualities of others who are not jewish.
        I would begin with the Armenian massacre.

        The palestinian propaganda machine does not need jews to help them along in demonising Israelis.
        or perhaps i should say their propaganda machine may sit back and allow the useful jewish self destructors to do their work for them.

  2. James Crafti says:

    I am Jewish and worked on the play. I was one of the first people Samah had review the script when she did a first draft in 2011. I also worked as the assistant stage manager on this remount of the play. It is a fantastic play and people should really see it. People should come and see it with an open mind.

  3. john nemesh says:

    Ms Sabawi is a professional propagandist.
    Four years ago she became incensed when my crew and I plastered marrickville State electorate with corflutes which stated the following—-

    The Greens support BDS-Boycott,Divestment and Sanction of Democratic Israel where Gays-
    —1/enjoy full civic and legal rights and
    2/have legal adoption of children ,
    whilst other middle east states may Stone Gays to Death .
    Vote for the main parties.

    Ms Sabawi accused me of “pink washing.”–ie mixing up the facts of Gay bashing and Gay murder by Muslim Palestinians and other Arab/Persian states with the territorial claim conflict.Asif it were unfair that I brought it to the population’s attention.After all, it was the Greens who insisted on placing an “international” issue onto a state election platform.

    So Ms Sabawi wrote a distorted (ofcourse) article in a left wing magazine, but she was absolutely flayed by the hostile comment section which tore her arguments apart.

    Now this is a Victorian issue–and it should be vigorously pursued.

    It is absolute rubbish to say this is “dramatic.”
    It is pure propaganda.
    At very least, a well made laminated 2 sided sheet should be written up by the Victorian Jewish community listing that among other things–
    1/Gazans worked in In Israel and Tel Aviv daily until they began to bomb buses and cafes and smite everyone from babies to the elderly frail .
    2/that HAMAS although initially voted in against the then corrupt PLO, has become a Fascist Muslim Dictatorship which throws its own people off building rooftops, kneecaps Fatah officials.
    3/It sent 10,000 missile rockets into Israel hoping to kill indiscriminately anyone and everyone since ALL Israelis are their targets.
    4/4000 rocket bombs were launched before Israel retaliated.
    5/What other nation or entity would have waited even after ONE rocket as a declaration of war?
    6/Gazan HAMAS deliberately placed their military headquarters directly beneath the main hospital-hoping that the hospital will be bombed and cause maximum casualties of their own people for propaganda purposes.
    7/Ditto for above in placing mortar and rocket placements in schools and next to UN buildings for the above propaganda effects.
    8/The Charter of HAMAS explicitly states that all Jews MUST DIE.
    No discussion, no negotiation.
    9/In 2005 Gaza was given back to the palestinians with intact farms and green houses.Instead of farming and taking advantage of the opportunities to produce food for their own people, HAMAS trashed the farms and used tem as rocket launching sites.

    With graphic photos of HAMAS terrorism to Israelis–this sheet MUST be part of the package all students and teachers receive.

    B/One entire session during the rehearsals for the play should be devoted to the Israeli deaths and injuries caused by Palestinian terrorism by a Victorian jewish person who is qualified, or an Israeli.

    This is the minimum.

    I think a reciprocal play should be written.And then tested with the Vic Education Committee.

    John Nemesh

  4. Ann E Fink says:

    Since none if the critics appear to have seen the play, I am mystified as to how they have come to their conclusions. None of the comments above appear to have any relationship to the play I saw in November 2014. It seems to me that the only literature of which these critics would approve, is a literature which justified all actions by the government of Israel.

    That is not “balance”, that is propaganda. It is an unbelievably hysterical response to a lyrical, love story set in Gaza, and which above all celebrates our universal humanity. The ability to laugh, to gossip, to dream, to love and to cry, amidst chaos and death is what this play is all about.

    If headmaster Kennard fears that his students will identify with the ambitious Jumana or her flirtatious cousin, I can assure him, his fears are fully justified. Samah Sabawi has written a play about very real people. Here in Israel, I see them every day. People getting on with their lives, enjoying their families despite the tragedies they have encountered. This applies to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and those of no faith. It is true of Palestinians and Jews and the many workers from Asia and South America, on whom Israelis so depend. This play is about all of us. Zionists do not fear.

    Please, dear readers do go to see it

  5. Suzanne Aladjem says:

    Had a play was to depict Palestian, terrorists, knife attacks on Israeli citizens, building tunnels with the view to murder innocent citizens. Would a play such as this be acceptable, to the board approving content. Or would that not be politically correct. I think we know the answer. This is not theatre, this blatant brain washing propaganda. Shame on the Education Department.

  6. Deborah Scholem (nee Berlin) says:

    As I read this article with disbelief. I noted that one of the Criteria that this play has been chosen for is because “…it had been performed in 2014 receiving good reviews from independent theatre reviewers”. This got me googling. I found one ! Rebecca Harkins-Cross, one of these top notch reviewers, wrote in the SMH “…Sabawi’s nuanced exploration of the myriad ways the occupation affects Palestinians could only be drawn from first hand experiences”.

    When I read that the ‘independent theatre reviewer’ thinks that Samah Sabawi has found ‘nuance’ and then she wrote (about one of the characters) Jomana “Finds solace from documenting the bloodshed”…and… “One more dead baby and the world will rise,” she prays. I had to look up (on Cambridge Dictionary On-Line) what the word nuanced meant because obviously Rebecca Harkins-Cross the independent theatre reviewer doesn’t.

    • Larry Stillman says:

      I noted a sarcastic remark about Sabawi’s life and where she has lived. So? What’s the problem? Do we hold it against Jews for living between Australia, Israel or the US? Second, she is in her 40s or 50s, if the age has made an error. Third, the Minister for Education made it clear in Oarliament that he won’t be bullied over this matter. And before there are screams of ‘antisemite’, he’s actually quite pro-Israel.

  7. Henry Herzog says:

    Why a play giving a completely biased take on Israel went only to demonise the Jewish state. No analyses of the conflict only how bad it is for defending its civilians from Hamas who use their own children as cannon fodder, when there are conflicts in the region where all sides are comitting atrositicies and madd murder of their own? Because when it comes to multiculturalism the Jews are excluded.

  8. Larry Stillman says:

    Ann Fink is known to many people in Israel. She provided this review of the play from her perspective as an Israeli-Australian progressive.

    http://www.ajds.org.au/2014/12/justvoices4_fink/ .

    Given that the play has been on the curriculum for a couple of years, and has not caused problems, this all sounds like a massive beat up.

    • Henry Herzog says:

      Larry, how do you know that this play hasn’t caused problems? The anti-Israel sentiments keeps on increasing, if you haven’ noticed. What we are facing is the demonization of Israel in favour of the Palestinians, based on sentiment of the underdog always being on the mythical side of justice. And don’t young impressionable minds just love that (never mind any analytical assessment; it’s usually black and white, and that’s what this play is about.

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