London theater apologizes after comedian allegedly berates Israeli audience member who did not applaud Palestinian flag

World News

(JR) — A London theater has apologized after a performer allegedly singled out an Israeli audience member who refused to applaud a Palestinian flag during a comedy set on Saturday night.

Comedian Paul Currie also riled up his audience to shout “Free Palestine” and “Get out” as multiple Jewish audience members exited, according to an account provided to the British watchdog group Campaign Against Antisemitism.

The performance took place at the Soho Theatre, a central London location that was the site of the West End Synagogue from 1880 to 1996.

“We are sorry and saddened by an incident that took place at our venue at the end of a performance of Paul Currie: Shtoom on Saturday 10 February which has caused upset and hurt to members of [our] audience attending and others,” the theater said in a statement. “We take this very seriously and are looking into the detail of what happened as thoroughly, as sensitively, and as quickly as we can. It is important to us that Soho Theatre is a welcoming and inclusive place for all.”

“Shtoom” is British slang meaning silent. It comes from the Yiddish word for “dumb,” or “silent,” commonly used in the expression “to keep shtum” about something.

The incident took place toward the end of Currie’s hour-long show, according to the account provided to the Campaign Against Antisemitism. He pulled out a Ukrainian flag and a Palestinian flag from his prop box and asked the audience to rise in what the group said was “a kind of standing ovation.” When the audience sat back down, Currie noticed one young man toward the front had not stood up, and he asked him why he did not stand. The audience member, whom the witness later learned was Israeli, said, “I enjoyed your show until you brought out the Palestinian flag,” to which Currie responded by shouting at him to leave the show.

“I’m from Northern Island, we know all about ceasefire, get the f— out of my show,” Currie allegedly yelled.

The Israeli audience member and his partner got up to leave the room, as did the person who submitted the complaint and his wife and another couple they attended the show with.

“By the time we exited, what felt like the entire audience were up on their feet shouting, ‘Free Palestine,’ ‘Get out!’” the person who submitted the description wrote.

The Israeli at the center of the incident spoke to the Daily Mail on Monday, identifying himself as Liahav Eitan. Eitan, who has lived in England for five years, said he left after being berated by Currie because he was afraid.

“We were mostly scared. We wanted to get out of the situation,” he said. “It seemed like a bit of a mob mentality that could go sour any second.”

The Campaign Against Antisemitism said in a statement that it was pursuing potential legal action in relation to the incident.

“What the Jewish audience-members have recounted is atrocious, and we are working with them and our lawyers to ensure that those who instigated and enabled it are held to account,” the group said.

“These allegations are of deeply disturbing discriminatory abuse against Jews,” the statement continued. “Comedians are rightly given broad latitude, but hounding Jews out of theatres is reminiscent of humanity’s darkest days, and must have no place in central London in 2024.”

Tensions are high in London and beyond because of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, which has engendered widespread pro-Palestinian displays, some of which have targeted Israelis and Jews. In one notable incident last month that police are investigating as a hate crime, three Jews in London said they had been attacked by a large group because they were speaking Hebrew.

Currie’s social media is full of pro-Palestinian content, and previous shows he has participated in have donated their proceeds to Irish Artists for Palestine, an organization fundraising for groups such as Red Crescent and the Palestinian Children Relief Fund.

On Saturday, he posted a video of himself at a pro-Palestinian march, though it is unclear when the march took place, and on Sunday, he posted a quotation from Mexican poet Cesar A. Cruz, saying, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

“If you were at my show last night,” Currie wrote, “you’ll know.”