Leading lights of British theatre accuse European Drama Prize of modern-day McCarthyism

| Artists for Palestine UK |
  • Lifetime achievement award for Caryl Churchill rescinded over support for Palestinians
  • Withdrawal prompts major intervention by more than 170 actors, directors, writers

More than 170 actors, writers and producers have accused the jury of the 2022 European Drama Prize in Germany of “modern-day McCarthyism”, after it withdrew a Lifetime Achievement Award from renowned British playwright Caryl Churchill over her support for Palestinian rights.

The comments come in an open letter (published below, in full) whose signatories include Dame Harriet Walter (Killing Eve, Succession), directors Mike Leigh (Peterloo, Mr Turner, Vera Drake), Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Crown), Phyllida Lloyd (The Iron Lady, Mamma Mia !), and the National Theatre’s Dominic Cooke CBE.

Churchill was awarded the European Drama Prize in April this year, only for the decision to be rescinded in October based on Churchill’s support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“Caryl Churchill deserves the highest international awards for a lifetime of game-changing work in the theatre”, said Dame Harriet Walter. “To withdraw any honour because of her political views is a dishonourable act reminiscent of McCarthyism”.

Pointing to a series of similar attacks on artists and scholars in recent years, the letter states that “this [latest] attack on freedom of conscience… raises urgent questions about a pattern of intimidation and silencing in Germany, and beyond”.

The signatories – who accuse institutions in Germany of “deep-seated anti-Palestinian racism” – also include actors Miranda Richardson, Miriam Margolyes, Khalid Abdalla, Juliet Stevenson, Maxine Peake, and Maureen Beattie as well as leading playwrights Abbie Spallen, Polly Stenham, Hannah Khalil, Nicholas Wright, Sabrina Mahfouz, Tanika Gupta, film director Stephen Frears, and Observer theatre critic Susannah Clapp.

“For the Schauspiel Stuttgart to rescind its prestigious award is irresponsible, illiberal and ignorant ; the decision reeks of the very fascism it affects to oppose” said Mike Leigh.

Announcing the withdrawal of the award, the jury also repeated claims that Churchill’s play ‘Seven Jewish Children’ could come across as ‘antisemitic’ – something Churchill rejected, saying “A political play has made political enemies, who attack it with slurs of antisemitism”.

Dominic Cooke, who directed the play in 2009, said : “Drawing attention to Israel’s human rights abuses and its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory is not antisemitic, it is legitimate protest. We must defend artists’ right to comment on it, and on any other abuse of power in the world, without their being subject to defamatory abuse”.

This major new intervention also drew support from Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC, who stated that the withdrawal of the award on the grounds of Churchill’s “support for BDS plainly violates her right to freedom of expression protected by Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention. It is wrong and the award should be unconditionally restored to her”.

We are proud to publish the letter in full below, with the list of signatories, and full statements by artists and others.

THE LETTER IN FULL

“We are appalled that the Lifetime Achievement Prize awarded to playwright Caryl Churchill for the European Drama Prize 2022 has been rescinded by the jury of the Schauspiel Stuttgart, on the grounds that Churchill supports the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’ssystem of apartheid

This outrageous turnaround is the latest in a campaign that targets artists critical of Israel’s colonial violence. It follows attempts to censor figures such as musiciansBrian Eno,Kae Tempest,Young Fathers, andTalib Kweli, authorKamila Shamsie, artistWalid Raad, philosopherAchille Mbembe, Palestinian journalist and poet Mohammed el-Kurd, and former director of the Jewish Museum Berlin,Peter Schäfer. This attack on freedom of conscience is nothing less than modern-day McCarthyism, and raises urgent questions about a pattern of intimidation and silencing in Germany, and beyond.

We note that the goals of the Palestinian-led BDS movement – ending the occupation, full equality to the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of return of Palestinian refugees – adhere to international law.

Yet, in 2019, a resolution passed by the Bundestag falsely equated the BDS movement with antisemitism. This vaguely-worded and non-binding resolution was rejected by leading international authorities on antisemitism and the history of the Holocaust. In 2020, 32 leading cultural institutions in Germany sounded the alarm at the repression of minority and critical voices, declaring the anti-BDS resolution “dangerous” and “detrimental to the democratic public sphere”. Moreover, seven German courts have found that anti-BDS resolutions and actions taken to implement them violate fundamental rights, including freedom of speech.

The repression and silencing we are witnessing suggest deep seated anti-Palestinian racism, and call into question the integrity and independence of cultural institutions.

Failure to defend artists who speak out in support of human rights – even when this upsets the government of the day – brings the cultural sector into disrepute. We demand better. If the only forms of art deemed ‘safe’ for institutions are those that have nothing to say to the dispossessed and oppressed of this earth and that are silent in the face of state-sanctioned repression, then art and culture are emptied of meaning and value.

In recent days, Caryl Churchill has said : “I stand by my support for BDS and Palestinians.” We, too, stand by the Palestinian people. And we are proud to stand by Caryl Churchill and against McCarthyism.”

Signed by :

Khalid Abdalla, Actor

Hassan Abdulrazzak, Playwright

Sarona Abuaker, Author

Bette Adriaanse, Writer

Hanan Al-Shaykh, Writer

Monica Ali, Writer

Amir Amirani, Film Director

Almiro Andrade, Actor/Director

Jack Arnold, Film Composer

Sahar Assaf, Artistic Director, Golden Thread Productions

Paul Bailey, Author

Marion Bailey, Actor

Amy Ball, Casting Director

Brian K Barber, Professor Emeritus

Peter Barnes, Actor

Helga Baumgarten, Professor 

Maureen Beattie, Actor

Sarona Bedwan, Writer

Ronan Bennett, Writer

Sonali Bhattacharyya, Writer

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Playwright/Screenwriter

Geoffrey Bindman KC, Human Rights Lawyer

Boycott from Within (Israeli citizens for BDS) 

Haim Bresheeth-Zabner, Filmmaker

Breyten Breytenbach, Author

Tam Dean Burn, Actor

Justin Butcher, Playwright 

Judith Butler, Professor

Leo Butler, Playwright

Tom Cairns, Director

Alexi Kaye Campbell, Playwright

John Carnegie, Theatre Director

Daragh Carville, Playwright/Screenwriter

Jonathan Chadwick, Writer/Director

Paul Chahidi, Actor 

Kathleen Chalfant, Actor

Henry Chalfant, Filmmaker/Photographer

Linda S. Chapman, Artistic Director

Jan Chappell, Actor

Mary Chater, Actor

Tanzil Chowdhury, Senior Lecturer

Julie Christie, Actor

Susannah Clapp, Theatre Critic

Dominic Cooke, Director

Gordon Cowell, Casting Director

Liam Cunningham, Actor

Mandy Cuthbert, Actor

Cherien Dabis, Film/TV Director

Stephen Daldry, Director

Lawrence Davidson, Professor Emeritus 

Siobhan Davies, Dancer/Choreographer

Angela Davis, Author

April De Angelis, Playwright

Dan de la Motte, Equity Councillor/Performer

Andy de la Tour, Actor

Jeremy Deller, Artist

Shane Dempsey, Director

Es Devlin, Artist

Stephen Dillane, Actor

Paola Dionisotti, Actor

Clare Dunne, Actor/Writer

Matthew Dunster, Director

Deborah Eisenberg, Actor/Writer

Inua Ellams, Playwright

Michael Elwyn, Actor

Brian Eno, Artist

Darla Eno, Artist

Gareth Evans, Whitechapel Gallery Adjunct Moving Image Curator

Richard Eyre, Director

David Farr, Author

Giovanni Fassina, Director, European Legal Support Centre

Sylvia Finzi, Artist

Joan D. Firestone, Producer

Ruth Fletcher, Reader in Law

Helen Fox, Actor/Writer/Producer

Stephen Frears, Director

Bella Freud, Artist

Ruth Fruchtman, Writer

Pooja Ghai, Artistic Director, Tamasha

Nick Gill, Playwright

John Gillett, Director/Writer

Natasha Gordon, Playwright/Actor

Neve Gordon, Professor

Orlando Gough, Composer

Tony Graham, Director

Andre Gregory, Director

Tanika Gupta, Playwright

Elaine Hagopian, Professor Emerita

Josh Hamilton, Actor

Omar Hamilton, Writer

Zainab Hasan, Actress

Amira Hass, Writer

Iris Hefets, Psychoanalyst/Writer

Weiland Hoban, Composer

David Horovitch, Actor

Jeffrey Horowitz, Founding Artistic Director, 

Theatre for a New Audience

Alix Hughes, Trustee, Bristol Palestine Film Festival

Tarek Iskander, Artistic Director, Battersea Arts Centre

Annemarie Jacir, Film Director

Jewish Voice For Peace (USA)

Richard Jones, Director

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East (Germany)

Ann Jungman, Author

Alex Kalmakrian, Editor

Aki Kaurismaki, Film Director

Willian Keen, Actor

AL Kennedy, Writer

Hannah Khalil, Playwright/Screenwriter

Laleh Khalil, Professor

Cindy Kleine, Director

Peter Kosminsky, Screenwriter/Director

Gavin Kostick, Playwright

Urszula Kucharczyk, Playwright

Hari Kunzru, Writer

David Lan, Writer/Producer

Jacob K. Langford, Director/Writer

Ruth Lass, Actor

Danny Lee Wynter, Actor/Playwright

Mike Leigh, Screenwriter/Director

Daisy Lewis, Actor/Director

Phyllida Lloyd, Director

Jim Loach, Director

Ken Loach, Director

Ruth Luschnat, Naturopath

Hettie Macdonald, Director

Sabrina Mahfouz, Playwright/Poet

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Playwright/Screenwriter

Jenny Manson, Co-Chair, Jewish Voice for Labour

Miriam Margolyes, Actor

Kika Markham, Actor

Bob Marchall-Andrews KC, Barrister

Chloe Massey, Actor

Antony McDonald, Stage Designer/Director

Ellen McLaughlin, Playwright/Actor

Tim McInnerny, Actor

Caitlin McLeod, Director

Pauline Melville, Writer

Patrick Miller, Actor/Writer/Director

Jenny Morgan, TV Director

Carol Morley, Film Director

Tom Morris, Director

Eileen Myles, Poet

Rosalind Nashashibi, Artist 

James Nicola, Former Artistic Director, New York Theater Workshop

Ofer Neiman, Translator

Ben Norris, Actor/Writer

Cyril Nri, Actor

Rebecca O’Brien, Producer

Shivaun O’Casey, Actor/Director

Sophie Okonedo, Actor

Peter Oswald, Playwright

Kate Pakenham, Producer

Maatin Patel, Writer

Christine Payne, Equity General Secretary, 2005-20

Maxine Peake, Actor

Performing Borders, Performance Collective

Philip Pullman, Writer

Rahul Rao, Academic

Siobhán Redmond, Actor

Miranda Richardson, Actor

Maroussia Richardson, Actor

Ian Rickson, Director

Jacqueline Rose, Professor

Catherine Rottenberg, Professor

Sara Roy, Research Scholar

Michal Sapir, Musician/Writer

James Schamus, Screenwriter/Producer

Sarah Schulman, Author/Playwright

Stephen Sedley, Lawyer/Former High Court Judge

Lynne Segal, Professor Emerita

Sara Shaarawi, Playwright

Elhum Shakerifar, Producer/Curator 

Kamila Shamsie, Writer

Wallace Shawn, Actor/Playwright 

Alia Shawkat, Actor

Abdul Shayek, Artistic Director, Tara Theatre

Lucy Sheen, Actor/Writer

Farhana Sheikh, Playwright

Christopher Shinn, Playwright

Avi Shlaim, Professor

Shma Koleinu, Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand

Gillian Slovo, Playwright/Author

Elaine C. Smith, Actor

Lili Sommerfeld, Musician

Nirit Sommerfeld, Musician

Ahdaf Soueif, Writer

Abbie Spallen, Playwright

Maggie Steed, Actor

Polly Stenham, Playwright

Jamie Stern-Weiner, PhD Researcher

Juliet Stevenson, Actress

Lisa Suhair Majaj, Writer

Adam Sutcliffe, Professor

Kae Tempest, Musician

Jacques Testard, Publisher, Fitzcarraldo

Ruby Thomas, Writer

Lily Thorne, Playwright

Colm Tóibín, Writer

Kathleen Tolan, Actor

Tilly Tremaine, Actor

Lindsey Turner, Director

Jo Tyabji, Director

Jean Urquhart, Artist

V (formerly Eve Ensler), Playwright 

Terry Victor, Actor

Naomi Wallace, Playwright

Harriet Walter, Actor

Stephen Warbeck, Composer

Sacha Wares, Director

Les Waters, Director

Eliot Weinberger, Writer

Michael Weller, Actor

Hilary Westlake, Director

David Whyte, Professor

John Womack, Jr, Professor Emeritus

Susan Wooldridge, Actor

Nicholas Wright, Playwright/Director

Gary Yershon, Composer

Daniel York Loh, Writer/Director/Actor

Alexander Zeldin, Playwright/Director

STATEMENTS

“Caryl Churchill deserves the highest international awards for a lifetime of game-changing work in the theatre. To withdraw any honour because of her political views is a dishonourable act reminiscent of McCarthyism.”
Harriet Walter DBE, Actor 

“As a fellow British dramatist and a Jew, I stand with Caryl Churchill in her totally justified support of the struggle of the Palestinian people against the Israeli apartheid regime. For the Schauspiel Stuttgart to rescind its prestigious award is irresponsible, illiberal and ignorant ; the decision reeks of the very fascism it affects to oppose.”
Mike Leigh, Film writer/director 

“Seven Jewish Children was written after the 2009 bombing of Gaza by Israel, in which many Palestinian children were killed. It is about families wanting to protect children and wondering what to tell them about terrible things, a pogrom, the Holocaust, finally the bombing of Gaza. It is critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians ; it is not an attack on all Jews, many of whom are also critical of Israeli policy. It is wrong to conflate Israel with all Jews. A political play has made political enemies, who attack it with slurs of antisemitism. I stand by my support for BDS and Palestinians. I am opposed to the German government definition of BDS as antisemitic and the use of it to target artists and academics.”
Caryl Churchill, Playwright

“Caryl Churchill has been stripped of a European Drama Award for her support of BDS but also on the grounds that her play SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN which I, a Jew, directed in 2009, ‘can come across as antisemitic’. The play was initially labelled antisemitic at the time by apologists for Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. When asked to provide evidence to support this claim they misquote the play, misrepresent its title and twist its meaning. SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN was written in response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2009 bombing of Gaza, which killed over a thousand Palestinian civilians, including at least two hundred children. The confected outrage about Caryl’s play was designed to divert attention away from this fact and scare possible critics of it into silence. But drawing attention to Israel’s human rights abuses and its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory is not antisemitic, it is legitimate protest. We must defend artists’ right to comment on it, and on any other abuse of power in the world, without their being subject to defamatory abuse and vile slurs.”
Dominic Cooke CBE, Associate Director, National Theatre 

“Withdrawal of the European Drama award from Caryl Churchill on the ground of her support for BDS plainly violates her right to freedom of expression protected by Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention. It is wrong and the award should be unconditionally restored to her.”
Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC

“As Jews living in Germany, we are outraged by this systematic use of antisemitism accusations to silence artists and intellectuals who stand for human rights for all. Censorship and smear campaigns, such as the one currently directed against Caryl Churchill, are unfortunately common in Germany today. Artists, intellectuals, journalists, cultural institutions who refuse to participate in the silencing and exclusion of Palestinian people, are easily harassed by authorities, threatened with loss of funding, vilified in the media. German state institutions fail to seriously address anti-semitism and all forms of racism in our society. Instead, every challenge to Israeli human rights violations can be cast as ‘anti-semitic’. This is a very effective weapon in Germany, because the fear to be perceived as anti-semitic is so great, and this fear is manipulated to actually persecute human rights defenders, including Jews. The reality is that when you stand for human rights, equality and justice in Germany, it can come with a price, as Caryl Churchill and so many others are experiencing. We are expressing our solidarity with Caryl and remain committed to universal values of human rights and equality, which for many of us are also rooted in Jewish tradition and identity.”
Jüdische Stimme für Gerechtigkeit in Nahost / Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East

“Should you be in any contact with Caryl Churchill, please convey to her my total support in solidarity with the right of Palestinians in their daily struggle for the most basic human rights, for dignity, for the freedom to live in an independent state of their own choosing on the land of their birth and those of their ancestors — and NOT the ghettos controlled by a predatory Israeli State.”
Breytan Breytenbach, Writer

I am a Jewish actor and I stand in solidarity with Caryl Churchill, BDS and the Palestinian people and their struggle against the racist, apartheid regime in Israel. Please add my name to the letter of signatories in support of Caryl Churchill and against this shocking and chilling decision to rescind her deserved award.
Ruth Lass, Actor