120 artists, industry officials slam boycott of Sydney festival over Israeli funding

More than 120 entertainment industry figures signed an open letter against the boycott of a major cultural festival in Sydney, Australia, which began on Thursday after 30 acts and individuals withdrew over a sponsorship deal with the Israeli embassy.

In the letter released Thursday by the Creative Community for Peace, the signatories said they “believe that the Sydney Festival cultural boycott movement is an affront to both Palestinians and Israelis who are working to promote peace through of commitment, exchange and mutual recognition.

“While we may all have different views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the best path to peace, we all agree that a cultural boycott is not the answer,” the letter continues.

He cited comments made by Australian rocker Nick Cave in 2018, in which he said: “Israel’s cultural boycott is cowardly and shameful.”

“Israel is a real, vibrant, functioning democracy, yes, with Arab members of parliament, so engaging with the Israelis, who vote, can be more helpful than scaring off artists or shutting down the means of participation.”

Cave was not listed as a signatory on the new letter.

Nick Cave wowed his Tel Aviv audience on November 19, 2017 (Courtesy of Orit Pnini)

Earlier this week, 30 bands, individual artists, companies and panel members canceled their concerts or went ahead without sponsorships at the 2022 Sydney Festival, in response to Israeli funding for a show tied to an Israeli choreographer.

The embassy provided $ 20,000 for “Decadance,” a show based on a work by Ohad Naharin and the Tel Aviv Batsheva Dance Company, as part of the 2022 Sydney Festival.

It was performed by the Sydney Dance Company on January 6 at the Sydney Opera House as scheduled, and is scheduled to run through January 9.

On the festival website, the embassy is listed as a “star partner” due to sponsorship.

The artists withdrew in response to boycott calls from Arab, pro-Palestinian and other activist groups, The Guardian reported Tuesday. Some of those who withdrew accused Israel of apartheid practices towards the Palestinians.

However, the festival organizers remained determined to allow the performance to continue.

Local comedian Tom Ballard announced his retirement in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying, “I love the Festival and I love telling jokes, but standing up for human rights and opposing the apartheid system is more important.”

He asked the festival to return the funding he received from the embassy and urged other artists to follow suit.

Singer Marcus Whale, announcing his departure on Monday, tweeted that the Israeli embassy “collaborates with Western cultural institutions to paint Israel as a liberal democracy on the one hand while imposing brutal occupation and apartheid on the other. No more.”

Artists at the Sydney Festival in Sydney, Australia, January 14, 2021 (Rick Rycroft / AP)

Some festival acts said they will participate but independently and have withdrawn from the auspices of the Sydney Festival, according to the report.

The cast of the acclaimed play “Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner” said in a statement that they are withdrawing “in solidarity with the Palestinian cause” and the rights of all indigenous peoples to “sovereignty and liberation,” referring to Israel as ” another oppressive settler colony. “

Furthermore, they accused the festival organizers of failing to provide a “culturally safe space for all artists, employees and the public.”

The Belvoir St Theater said it will present its scheduled show, but will not accept any direct funding from the festival because Palestinian artists cannot participate in “cultural security.”

In a statement Tuesday, the Sydney Festival board said it would keep the Israel-sponsored show and “wish to collectively affirm its respect for the right of all groups to protest and raise concerns.”

“All financing agreements for the current Festival, including the Decadance, will be honored and the performances will continue,” he said. “At the same time, the Board has also determined that it will review its practices in relation to financing from foreign governments or related parties.”

The Sydney Palestinian Justice Movement claimed in December that funding for the Israeli embassy was agreed in May and called for a boycott, accusing the festival of contributing “to the normalization of an apartheid state.”

Illustrative: A man holds up a sign during a rally in support of the BDS movement in Albany, New York, on June 15, 2016. (AP / Mike Groll)

The embassy responded in a statement to The Guardian at the time that Israel was “proud to support and participate in this important Festival that features top artists and performances from around the world.

“Culture is a bridge for coexistence, cooperation and rapprochement and must be left out of the political arena,” said the embassy.

PJMS called for a protest rally outside the Sydney Opera House when the festival started on Thursday.

The pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement says it seeks to end Israel’s control of land captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and what it describes as discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority. It also calls for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to ancestral lands from which they fled or were expelled in the 1948 war during the creation of Israel.

Israeli officials vehemently reject the apartheid accusations, and Israel and other opponents of BDS say the BDS campaign fosters anti-Semitism and aims to delegitimize or even destroy Israel as a Jewish state.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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