Georgia Straight Gives Sympathetic Coverage To PuSh Festival’s Cancellation Of The Runner

January 23, 2024

On January 11, The Georgia Strait newspaper reported on the successful efforts of UK-based Palestinian artist Basel Zaraa to cancel the Vancouver performance of a play, The Runner, which takes place in Israel and which features an Orthodox Jew.

In the article entitled: “PuSh Festival cancels planned performances of ‘The Runner,’” Associate Editor V.S. Wells wrote that since the war between Hamas and Israel began in October: “Israeli forces have killed more than 23,000 Palestinians in Gaza, which Oxfam finds to be the highest daily death toll of any major conflict in the 21st century.”

Yet even Oxfam concedes the numbers are combined “based on civilian and combatant deaths,” that skew the toll. Wells did not explain that according to Israel, nearly 10,000 of the deaths are confirmed Hamas terrorists, and that this tally also includes the casualties from rockets fired from within the Gaza Strip, where as many as one-fifth of rockets fired fell back into the coastal enclave.

It is true, as reported in the Straight, that “Israel’s military campaign began as a response to Hamas attacks that killed over 1,200 Israelis,” but then the article followed up by saying that “It follows decades of what Amnesty International characterizes as an ‘apartheid’ regime against Palestinians.”

By juxtaposing the two statements, the implication here is that there is cause and effect, as if to suggest the organization’s claim is somehow a justification or at least an explanation for the slaughter of 1,200 Israelis. Of all the possible counterweights, it is a poor attempt to offer balance.  

Wells then wrote that “an international hearing into whether Israel’s actions constitute genocide is ongoing at the time of writing,” referencing South Africa’s accusation of genocide and having brought a case against Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Although Pretoria’s case is undoubtedly major news around the world, citing it in this context falsely suggests to readers that it is relevant at all to the boycott of The Runner.

Simply making reference to South Africa’s highly-politicized case also implies that it has merit, but that is not necessarily so, and the allegations have been vociferously condemned by a host of countries, including France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and perhaps most importantly, Germany, a state which recognizes genocide better than perhaps any other, with the exception of Israel.

When discussing the play in question, Wells’ reporting left much to be desired.

The Runner, produced by Toronto playwright Christopher Morris, featured an Israeli man saving a Palestinian woman, and has been described by The Globe & Mail as a “nuanced” look at relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

That did not stop Zaraa from demanding PuSh remove The Runner, complaining that the play lacked a “fundamental context of Israel’s occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”

While Wells quotes Zara’s complaint, and those laid out in a petition which accused the play of “perpetuating colonial narratives,” no counter-balance is provided that could rebut both the spurious allegations leveled against the play, and the false and defamatory charges made against Israel. Yet when it came to mention of Hamas’ October 7 attack, that was immediately followed by repeating accusations that Jerusalem was an “apartheid” state, as if that was relevant context.

As anti-Israel artists attempt to make the case that they are facing censorship for daring to express pro-Palestinian views, Wells’ article is further marred by its curiously omitting this background, given that it would expose for all readers the hypocrisy of a movement that can simultaneously bemoan censorship and actively censor those with whom it disagrees.

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