Perdition is a 1987 stage play by Jim Allen. Its premiere at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in London was abandoned, after protests, because of the controversial and tendentious claims it contains.
Influenced by activist Lenni Brenner's book Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (1983), Allen described Brenner's book as "a goldmine source". Perdition, according to Allen in an interview for Time Out at the time of the intended original production as “the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist". According to him, during the Holocaust "the lower you went down on the social scale, the more you found resistance; but the higher you went up the social scale, the more you found cooperation and collaboration [with Nazis]".
The play deals with a libel action in Israel a few years after the Second World War, which concerned alleged collaboration during the war between the leadership of the Zionist movement in Hungary and the Nazis, a narrative which has been described by historian Dave Rich as being a "Stalinist lie".
Its starting point comes from the trial of Rudolf Kastner, a leading member of the Budapest Aid and Rescue Committee, whose job it was to help Jews escape from Nazi-ruled Hungary. His libel trial in Israel was about an accusation that he had collaborated with Adolf Eichmann, one of the main SS officers in charge of carrying out the Holocaust. Though the initial trial found that he had indeed "sold his soul to the devil" by saving certain Jews whilst failing to warn others that their "resettlement" was in fact deportation to the gas chambers, there was a subsequent Israeli supreme court trial a few years later at which the findings were overturned.
The question that the play asks through the device of another (fictional) libel trial in London in 1967 involving a man called Dr Yaron, is whether the saving of certain Jews was an act of collaboration in line with Zionist philosophies about populating Israel at the expense of those Jews who remained. The play's text includes such analogies as "the Zionist knife in the Nazi fist" (which was cut in the pre-production period) and accused Jewish leaders: "To save your hides, you practically led them to the gas chambers of Auschwitz". Characters assert that "Israel was founded on the pillars of Western guilt and American dollars" and "Israel was coined in the blood of Hungarian Jewry".
Cancellation and controversy
In January 1987, the Ken Loach directed production of Perdition for London's Royal Court Theatre, intended for its Upstairs studio theatre, was cancelled on the day before the first preview performance. At the time, the historian Martin Gilbert said the play was "a complete travesty of the facts" and was "deeply anti-Semitic". Another specialist in the field, David Cesarani, agreed. Max Stafford-Clark, then the artistic director of the Royal Court, rejected assertions the play was antisemitic or contained errors, but said that continuing with the production would cause "great distress to sections of the community". Loach in 1987 claimed the Royal Court given into pressure from members of the British Jewish community, including the publisher Lord Weidenfeld and the political advisor Lord Goodman. Loach told a newspaper of the Workers Revolutionary Party that he "hadn't tangled with the Zionist lobby before" and that "what is amazing is the strength and organisation and power of their lobby". He was also angry with the dramatist Caryl Churchill, who defended Stafford-Clark's decision. Jim Allen himself blamed "the Zionist machine".
Dave Rich in an article for The Jewish Chronicle in 2017 wrote that Loach is one individual who uses the episode "to try to claim that the entire Zionist movement collaborated in the murder of their fellow Jews; either from cold, cynical calculation – they only cared about getting Jews to Mandate Palestine – or through ideological affinity". Glenda Abramson wrote in Drama and Ideology in Modern Israel (1998) that Allen in his play "uses Zionism rather than Nazism as his exemplar of fascism and the analogy of Israel rather than Nazi Germany in his warning about the future revival of global fascism". In a letter to The Guardian in 2004, in connection with the premature end of another controversial play's production, Loach wrote that "the charge of antisemitism" against Allen's play "is the time-honoured way to deflect anti-Zionist arguments".
In 1999, the play was performed at the Gate Theatre, London in a production by Elliot Levey. Levey defended the play in 1999: "It is not historically inaccurate. It's very much a pro-Jewish play. My hope is that it won't be sat on, as it was in the 1980s".
- Abramson, Glenda (1998). Drama and Ideology in Modern Israel. Cambridge University Press. pp. 169–70.
- Hirsh, David (2017). Contemporary Left Antisemitism. London: Routledge. p. 40.
- Cesarani, David (1990). "The Perdition Affair". In Wistrich, Robert S. (ed.). Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism in the Contemporary World. Basingstoke & London: Macmillan. p. 54.
- Rich, Dave (2016). The Left's Jewish Problem. London: Biteback. p. 147.
- Aaronovitch, David (12 April 2017). "Don't let the revisionists rewrite Nazi history". The Times. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Joffee, Linda (23 February 1987). "A play no theater will play". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Rich, Dave (27 September 2017). "Loach, Livingstone and the Holocaust: a study in slander". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Cohen, Ben (Fall 2004). "The Persistence of Anti-Semitism on the British Left". Jewish Political Studies Review. Retrieved 27 September 2017. (This text is also online under the title: "A Discourse of Delegitimisation: The British Left and the Jews".)
- "London Theater Drops Disputed Play". The New York Times. Reuters. 22 January 1987. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Lion, Ed (22 January 1987). "Jewish group hails play cancellation". United Press International. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Loach, Ken (24 December 2004). "The truth about Perdition". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Jays, David (24 June 1999). "A damnable shame". New Statesman. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Gibbons, Fiachra (23 April 1999). "Jewish anger at revival of lost play of the 80s". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Pinto-Duschinsky, Michael (13 January 2017). "Book review: Kasztner's Crime, by Paul Bogdanor". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 27 September 2017.