LONDON -- British Jews Thursday welcomed the last-minute decision by a theater to drop the staging of a controversial play that claims Zionists in Hungary collaborated withthe Nazis during World War II in order to help the creation of Israel.
'This decision is a victory for justice and common sense and will be applauded by level-headed people everywhere,' said Lionel Kopelowitz, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which represents most of the nation's 330,000 Jews.
The play, entitled 'Perdition' and written by Marxist playwright Jim Allen, was originally scheduled to open for a press preview Thursday and for general viewing next week at the Royal Court Theater.
But after a four-hour meeting of the theater's board of governors, called to discuss criticism and planned Jewish protests, the Royal Court's artistic director announced Wednesday the play would not be staged.
Historians, including Winston Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert, said the play was riddled with inaccuracies. Jewish historian David Cesarani branded it 'one of the most serious examples of anti-Semitic thinking in this country for many years.'
'It revives the anti-Semitism that goes back to 'The Merchant of Venice,'' he said.
Allen said his play 'says that throughout the Holocaust, the overriding consideration of the Zionist leadership was the building of a Jewish homeland, and that all else -- including the rescue of European Jews -- became secondary.'
'The play and its contents are correct,' said Allen, who charged the cancellation meant the 'public and critics are denied.'
In announcing the cancellation, artistic director Max Stafford-Clark said, 'We do not accept there are factual inaccuracies.'
'But we do accept that going ahead would cause great distress to a section of the community which outweighs our committment to the production,' he said.
The playwright and the seven-member cast, who include some Jews, have said they would seek to have the play staged elsewhere.
The play, in the format of a libel trial, revolves around deals Jews were forced to make with the Nazis during the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews during World War II.
The fact that such deals were made is not in dispute; historians say they were desperate attempts to save Jewish lives.
But the play claims Zionists in Hungary colloborated with the Nazis because they judged it would take a slaughter on the proportions of the Holocaust to spur the founding of Israel in then British-ruled Palestine.
A leading character in the play says the Jews of Hungary -- of whom more than a half million died at the Auschwitz death camp -- 'were murdered not just by the force of German arms, but by calculated treachery of their own Jewish leaders.'