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March 1, 2022 2:48 pm

London Theater Apologizes ‘Unreservedly’ for Giving Billionaire Character Stereotypically Jewish Name

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The Royal Court theater in London. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A London theater apologized on Tuesday for originally giving a fictional billionaire in one of its plays a name that was accused of stereotyping Jews and perpetuating antisemitism.

The Royal Court Theatre Board also published a report explaining their internal review into the production “Rare Earth Mettle,” which was set to feature a character called Hershel Fink — a greedy and power-hungry billionaire who wants to “save the world” by building affordable electric cars.

Following criticism from members of the British Jewish community over the name in November, Royal Court apologized for “unconscious bias” and changed the name of the character — who the theater said is not meant to be Jewish — to Henry Finn. However, it was revealed soon after that while the theater was previously warned by a Jewish director that the character’s name perpetuated an antisemitic stereotype, it took no corrective action at the time.

The Royal Court said on Tuesday that it “apologizes unreservedly for the pain that has been caused” by the production of “Rare Earth Mettle,” saying the incident “fell short” of its ambitions for “inclusivity and anti-racism.”

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The theater “is committed to learning from it and clear actions have been put in place including specialist training on antisemitism,” it added. “The Royal Court must and will become a space in which Jewish artists and other professionals can work without fear of antisemitism, as it always should have been.”

Royal Court also admitted in the report that the name Hershel Fink “and aspects of the character’s personality could be seen as an antisemitic trope,” and that “the point was raised twice during relatively late stages of the production process with the director, but was not appropriately resolved by him. The director deeply regrets this [and] apologizes.”

“The play itself is not about Judaism and has no Jewish characters in it and this incident did not result from any deliberate act of antisemitism. It remains nonetheless a serious and damaging incident.”

The theater’s artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, said in a statement included in the report that antisemitism training for staff and trustees began last week.

“We will now look to action the recommendations included [in the report] alongside the ongoing work we have been doing internally and with members of the Jewish community,” she said.

Yet some in the British Jewish community took issue with the theater’s failure to acknowledge that the offending incident was not a standalone occurrence.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the leading representative body of British Jewry, told The Jewish Chronicle that it had previously met with theater executives over the controversy, and “made it clear that this was not seen by our community as a one-off incident. Instead, this was one in a series of terrible decisions made over the last 35 years, and to fail to acknowledge that would be extremely unwise. We also stressed that the theater would need to properly reach out to the Jewish community in order to help fix its reputation.”

The Jewish group added, “Today’s report appears to have been a missed opportunity to both properly acknowledge the past and set out a vision for the future.”

A group of Jewish theater-makers additionally said on the condition of anonymity: “We welcome the Royal Court’s acknowledgment of wrongdoing. However, many of the report’s recommendations seem like common sense and don’t focus specifically on antisemitism. The lack of accountability is also disappointing. Therefore, the report feels insufficient given the hurt caused. Moving forward, we hope the theater industry takes this incident as a wake-up call to commit to eradicating anti-Jewish racism.”

The Royal Court’s 1987 play “Perdition” was abandoned after protests that it accused Hungarian Jews of collaborating with Nazis. In 2009, the theater was charged with perpetuating a blood libel through the controversial production “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza.”

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