THE Sydney Festival’s refusal to hand back $20,000 of sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy has led over 20 acts to withdraw from the event, encouraged by pro-Palestinian activists.
The funding is tied into the Sydney Dance Company’s staging of Decadance, created by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin for the Batsheva Dance Company.
Among those who have announced they’re boycotting the festival are comedians Tom Ballard and Nazeem Hussein, dance ensemble Bindi Bosses, First Nations dance company Marrugeku and Melbourne band Karate Boogaloo.
Ballard tweeted this week, “I love the Festival and I love telling jokes but standing up for human rights and standing against a system of apartheid is more important.”
In 2012, Ballard was forced to apologise after telling a tasteless joke on radio station Triple J referring to the ovens used to burn Jewish corpses in the Holocaust.
Responding to the boycott announcements, the festival board said this week, “All funding agreements for the current Festival – including for Decadance will be honoured, and the performances will proceed. At the same time, the Board has also determined it will review its practices in relation to funding from foreign governments or related parties.”
Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler has written to the Board of the Sydney Festival, thanking them for “their principled stance”.
“Boycott organisers have spread easily disproven lies about Israel – including allegations of genocide and apartheid – and even claimed that by including an Israeli act, the Festival is excluding Palestinians and other Arabs. This is both errant nonsense and worrying proof that the objective of those calling for a boycott is not a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians, but a future without Israel,” Leibler wrote.
“If vitally important civil society organisations such as the Sydney Festival cave into campaigns from these extremist groups, it will only encourage them to continue this behaviour.”
Speaking to The AJN last month, an Israeli Embassy spokesperson said, “Australia and Israel have a long and proud history of artistic, cultural, scientific and academic collaborations that have benefitted people of both countries.”
Noting, “Over the years, many embassies have co-sponsored events at the Sydney Festival,” NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Darren Bark welcomed the “principled stance by the Sydney Festival to reject the call for BDS”.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald last week, Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin said, “Through promoting a boycott of the festival, anti-Israel activists in this country will have again gotten their column inches and online chatter devoted to the bloodlust and greed of Israelis and the quiet dignity of the Palestinian resistance. The stabbing of an Israeli mother walking with her kids in Jerusalem earlier this month generated no such verbiage. The image of a Hamas operative toting a sub-machine after slaying a young Israeli tour guide on the cobblestones of the Old City, a mere triviality compared with the question of who sponsors an interpretative dance routine.
“Herein we see the strategy of anti-Israel activism. It is to take the stage, co-opt every movement, every forum of prestige and saturate it with stories of Israeli evil to the extent that the hand of Israel is placed on every gun in every police shooting in the United States and protesters in London claim that Palestine is a climate issue.
He added, “Isolating Israelis from the world, keeping their academics, artists and dancers away from others lest their basic humanity be discovered is a key plank to this strategy. Journalists or politicians who travel to Israel are smeared as being in the pay of the ‘Jewish lobby’. Heaven forbid they should see the scene of the conflict for themselves or find that things aren’t quite as the anti-Israel movement would have us believe.”
Describing the bid to scuttle Israeli funding as “zero-sum thinking”, Federal member for Wentworth Dave Sharma tweeted last month, “Right now the UAE and other Arab states are welcoming Israeli cultural performers and tourists, as a way to promote peace and coexistence between peoples. But here we have the BDS movement – opposed to coexistence in all its forms – rear its ugly head in Australia.
“Such zero-sum thinking, by rejecting coexistence, is not a recipe for peace, but one for perpetuation of conflict. It has no place in Australia, one of the most harmonious multicultural societies in the world.”
Saying they appreciated “the very important stance of the Sydney Festival”, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council national chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein said, “The obsessive singling out and demonisation of the only true democracy in the Middle East by boycotting performers is an affront to Australia’s successful and harmonious multiculturalism.
“Such calls from the BDS movement, based on so many falsehoods and even slanderous claims, only serve to create division and intimidation in Australia’s cohesive ,multicultural community. Moreover, they do nothing but impede efforts to advance peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians in these otherwise promising Abraham Accords times, when Israel is truly normalising its relationships with so many of its Arab neighbours.”
Walt Secord, deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel, NSW patron of the Labor Israel Action Committee and NSW shadow arts minister, wrote to the Sydney Festival that the demand to drop the embassy’s funding was “unfortunate, illegal and unfair”, adding that “economic boycotts against Jews and Israel have a long and ugly history”.
Anti-Defamation Commission chair Dvir Abramovich stated, “The politics of division and fear, whose sole objective is to delegitimise and denigrate the only Jewish state in the world, have no place in our nation.”