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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Talking back to Rachel Corrie's parents

Pity Judith Weiss. Not only did she go to see "My Name is Rachel Corrie," she spent an evening discussing it with the true believers....

I wrote three weeks ago about the one-woman show "My name is Rachel Corrie", which is playing in NYC through the end of the year, and the ad hoc group which has been leafleting every performance.

After Jewish friends stimulated him to find out more about her case, the original producer James Nicola wanted speakers and talkbacks after the play to provide some context for Corrie's words. The London producers vociferously opposed this idea, accusing him of censoring the play because of pressure from the Jewish community, which has become the conventional wisdom.

Ironically, the current production has featured a talkback every Tuesday, with guests ranging from anti-Zionist playwright Tony Kushner to the producer Alan Rickman. So they are doing exactly what Nikola was criticized for insisting on. However, none of the talkbacks include anyone remotely critical of Corrie or her supporters. The play is a hagiography, the audience (for the most part) are true believers, and the talkbacks are a lovefest. My guess is that the Nikola was planning to mix it up a bit more, and that is what Rickman and Viner were afraid of.

I saw "My Name is Rachel Corrie" two weeks ago, and I wrote a review which I am going to post in the next few days. (Short version: it is both banal and infuriating.) Right now I want to report on the "talkback" I attended Tuesday night, featuring Rachel's parents and a Palestinian and Israeli with Combatants for Peace.

I was invited by one of the pro-Israel leafletters, who had permission from Rickman to attend. (But anyone who has seen the play can attend a talkback, and not just the night you saw the play. Save your stub, and come back the next Tuesday at 9:45 PM, and you'll get in.) My companion and I strategized at dinner what questions we were going to ask if we got called on. He had served in the IDF and wanted to address IDF "refusenik" Yonatan Shapira.*** I formulated a few questions which could take off from several topics to reframe the discussion.

I recorded the talkback, so you can hear what Mr and Mrs Corrie and Combatants for Peace say in their appearances to campus and church and activist groups around the country. You can hear ABC News anchor Dan Harris obsequiously moderate. You can hear my question (the only critical question of the entire evening) to Sulaiman Khatib the Palestinian ex-Fatah fighter,** and his (non) response. You can hear sotto voce the guy sitting next to me whisper "Did he answer your question?" I shook my head and he whispered, "It didn't sound like it to me." You can hear Mr Corrie say and ex-IDF captain Shapira repeat that "the Palestinians are in a bad way" and "we have to protect them" and that our responsibility as Americans is to encourage "international pressure." (Shapira is an excellent poster boy for this kind of thing - he is totally cute the way many IDF guys are, and very earnest.) You can hear the beautiful young Palestinian-American woman in the audience express grateful surprise that the Corries had heard of the "Naqba." (As if this kind of audience hadn't been lectured endlessly about the Naqba.)

There's lots more to this post, so make sure you read the whole thing. Judith also has much of the 'talkback' on audio on her site, so plan on spending some time there.


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