Headmistress sacked after ‘anti-Semitic’ Merchant Of Venice offends parents

The former head of a British private school has apparently been fired from her new role in Canada – after a performance of The Merchant Of Venice was deemed anti-semitic.

Judith Carlisle was the respected head of Oxford High School for six years but is now said to have lost her role in Toronto over the controversial production.

Ms Carlisle, 59, became head of Canada’s Bishop Strachan in August 2017 after leaving Oxford High girls’ school on good terms the month before.

The version of the play was performed at the school by London-based Box Clever Theatre last month.

Pupils and parents in the audience were apparently encouraged to shout ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Burn The Jews’ in response to slogans about persecuting Jews and Shylock, according to claims by parents.

A letter signed by 24 parents was sent to the school criticised the one-man show, performed on October 17. They said it contained demeaning, derogatory and inappropriate language with anti-Semitic sentiment that was offensive to Jewish students.

Complaints from parents allegedly led to Ms Carlisle being sacked on Friday. The letter added that Jewish students whose families were personally affected by the Holocaust felt uncomfortable.

IHRA working definition | Anti-Semitism

"The Box Clever production was meant to provide a modern spin to the Merchant of Venice play and link the anti-Semitic messages to those that Hitler used in the Holocaust," the letter wrote.

"Instead, as described below, Box Clever materially exaggerated the anti-Semitic sentiment of the original version of the play and sadly introduced the Holocaust in a humorous light that minimized its impact and offended many of the Jewish students whose families were personally affected."

Bishop Strachan said it was "an error to present that particular version of the play", adding that "the appropriate context was not provided to students to prepare them".

In a statement, Ms Carlisle said: "I would never deliberately offend students entrusted to my care or their parents.

"I deeply regret that that there was not a plan in place to ensure that teachers were fully prepared to engage the students on the play.

"As head, the responsibility for that oversight ultimately rests with me. I deeply regret any hurt or offence that has been caused by this."

Until October 2017 Ms Carlisle was also a director of Box Clever, according to Companies House records.

The theatre group performed its adaptation of Merchant of Venice at Oxford High previously.

Oxford High said it "does not recognise the description of the performance at BSS as similar to that performed in Oxford".

Box Clever Theatre apologised to any students upset by the adaptation and said it has been performed since 1998 without complaint, including at a major arts centre in Jerusalem.

A statement added: "The production seeks to challenge hatred in all its manifestations and remind audiences of the dangers and consequences of unchallenged discrimination.

"The company was, is and will remain opposed to anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination."

Ms Carlisle added: "As an educator, I believe that it has never been more important for us as to equip our daughters to deal with uncomfortable social issues and learn how to participate effectively in the often contentious debates that surround them.

"If our shared goal is to nurture a generation of strong, independent female leaders, we must stick to these core principles even in the face of occasional controversy."

Leave a Reply