Fallout over comment

MWF deputy chair resigns

Saunders, within three weeks of the October 7 Hamas onslaught signed an open letter blaming the violence on "75 years of Israeli settler colonial dispossession".

Writer Mykaela Saunders.
Photo: Fremantle Press
Writer Mykaela Saunders.Photo: Fremantle Press

Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) deputy chair Leslie Reti has quit the festival’s board over “historically untrue and deeply offensive material” to be aired at the event, which will be held in May.

Writer Mykaela Saunders’ session, titled “Let It Bring Hope”, features Aboriginal and Palestinian poets reading works “in affirmation of commitment, care and solidarity”.

The program states, “Aboriginal and Palestinian solidarity has a long history, a relationship that is more vital than ever in the movement to resist colonialism and speak out against atrocities.”

Saunders, who has Koori and Lebanese legacy, within three weeks of the October 7 Hamas onslaught signed an open letter blaming the violence on “75 years of Israeli settler colonial dispossession”.

Reti, who was MWF deputy chair for the past two years, said, “This historically untrue and deeply offensive material,” compelled him to quit his role on the board.

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council national chairman Mark Leibler, who co-chaired both the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and the Referendum Council, said, “From what I’ve read … it seems the festival’s artistic director has framed the program around a twisted view of history that denies Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel.

“The fact that pro-Palestinian activists have sought to enlist support from Aboriginal Australians, the most disadvantaged people of this nation, based on a contorted, frankly untrue, comparison with their own history of dispossession, is disappointing but not surprising,” he continued.

“I am reassured by the clear-sighted response of well-informed Aboriginal people like Marcia Langton and Nova Peris. This week Sean Gordon said, ‘There isn’t anything that connects us to what is happening in Palestine. The long and close relationship between Aboriginal and Jewish Australians will endure long after the Melbourne Writers Festival and the war in Gaza are over.'”

MWF chair Alice Hill said the festival “has, and always will, champion open discourse”.

“We recognise, encourage and value the importance of diverse opinions and perspectives among our staff, artists, audiences, the communities we serve and through our program,” she said.

“We respect and understand Leslie Reti’s decision to step down from the board and are immensely grateful for his dedication and leadership during his tenure.”

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