Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) president Jeremy Leibler has called on partners of Adelaide Writers Week (AWW) “to make clear that they reject hate speech and want nothing to do with the hate and normalisation of antisemitism promoted” by the event.
Two speakers in particular who are being platformed have made incendiary public comments regarding Israel and Zionism; however, eight writers – almost one in 10 – featured are Palestinian activists with no alternative pro-Israel voices on the program.
Featured writer Mohammed El-Kurd has publicly denied Jewish indigeneity to the land and compared Israel to the Nazis.
He has also described Israel as a “terrorist, genocidal nation” and makes allegations that Israel is ethnically cleansing Palestinians, and that “Israelis at large are thirsty for Palestinian blood.”
Online he has also defended someone who tweeted that she wanted “to kill every motherf***ing Zionist”, “death to Israel”, “curse the Jews” and who supported Hamas.
The inclusion of Susan Abulhawa has also raised concerns due to her comments calling for “armed resistance” and for resistance against “barbaric colonisers” in Israel to be funded.
Just this year on social media she stated, “Someday we will demolish this racist colonial zionist military ‘state’. And the world will be a better place for it.”
Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) co-CEO Alex Ryvchin told The AJN, “We raised our concerns about El-Kurd in November and it became clear to us that he and Abulhawa had been invited not in spite of their extremism but precisely because of it.”
There has also been criticism over the inclusion of Australian Palestinian advocate and author Randa Abdel Fattah, as she appeared on a panel alongside the head of international relations for terrorist organisation Hamas, Dr Basem Naim, in 2021.
A spokesperson for one of the major sponsors of the festival, MinterEllison, said that the law firm was recently made aware of the participation of Abulhawa and El-Kurd and of certain public statements made by both authors.
“We do not agree with those views. We have strongly expressed our reservations to the festival,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also noted that MinterEllison sought the festival’s assurances that “no racist or antisemitic commentary should be tolerated” as part of El-Kurd’s or Abulhawa’s or any other session.
They, however, have made the decision “well in advance of the festival and the writers’ festival being staged to remove our presence and involvement with this year’s writers’ festival program. In addition, as these speakers are associated with the festival, we will be removing our support from the broader festival program [where feasible]”.
They said they are also “in the process of reviewing the future partnership”.
Leibler welcomed MinterEllison’s “principled decision to reject antisemitism and those who are prepared to give it a voice”, adding, “As a major partner to the festival, its actions have meaning.”
Ryvchin said the festival organisers have shown a “serious failure of judgement”.
“The explanation that they are fostering debate and supporting free speech by platforming antisemites is … extraordinary. No other form of prejudice would be excused in this way. If this was about debate or diversity of views, there would be pro-peace Palestinians and mainstream Jewish and Israeli writers present. It is about amplifying the views of the festival director [Louise Adler],” he said.
“We are pleased that an increasing number of corporate partners and public figures are … speaking out against this gross politicisation of the festival and cultural spaces.”
South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas also expressed concern over El-Kurd and Abulhawa. “I completely abhor the comments that have been made … I’m surprised they are being facilitated at Adelaide Writers’ Week,” he said.
“I won’t be going along to hear them speak.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne Jewish Book Week (MJBW), which is listed on AWW’s website as a cultural partner, distanced itself this week with an email explaining its event with author Shalom Auslander “is not part of Adelaide Writers’ Week”.
While “all costs relating to Shalom Auslander’s visit have been equally shared” with AWW, MJBW said it “has had no involvement in, or prior knowledge of AWW’s broader schedule of events”.
MJBW David Slucki said in a statement, “Melbourne Jewish Book Week unreservedly condemns all forms of antisemitism and racism. We are, therefore, particularly disturbed by the comments of Susan Abulhawa and Mohammed El-Kurd, guests of Adelaide Writers Week.
“Telling stories of the impact of the conflict on Palestinians is an important part of resolving what remains an intractable situation, and we support the right of literary and cultural festivals to invite storytellers who shed light on how the conflict shapes the lives of those who live in its shadows.
“At the same time, it is deeply distressing that, in their criticisms of Israel, Abulhawa and El-Kurd resort to the casual use of historic anti-Jewish tropes, in particular comments invoking blood libels and global Jewish control. Such views are abhorrent and an affront to Jews and non-Jews alike.
“Adelaide Writers Week is one of the preeminent literary festivals in Australia, and, as such, we call on them to take a strong and clear stand against antisemitism in all its forms.”