Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Australia has called on the organisers of the Sydney Festival to boycott any support from the State of Israel.

J-Wire Newsdesk
December 21, 2021

Israel’s embassy in Canberra is reported to have given $20,000 to the Festival allowing it to present a performance highlighting work of Israeli Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin.

The Sydney Herald reports a coalition representing Sydney’s Arab community and others are calling on patrons and performers to boycott next January’s Sydney Festival

In a letter to the Sydney Festival written on behalf of 12 Palestine support groups from across Australia, BDS Australia wrote: “We write to express our deep concern at the 2022 Festival of Sydney’s acceptance of sponsorship from the Israeli government via the Israeli Embassy, Canberra as a Star Partner and as a sponsor of the Sydney Dance Company’s festival event, Decadance.

We ask that you seriously reconsider the Sydney Festival’s association with the State of Israel and stand with the Palestinian people and with international law by refusing to accept any sponsorships from or collaborations with Israel until such time as Palestine is free.”

The letter also pointed out: “The signatories to this letter are members of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Australia which supports the 2005 call by 170 Palestinian civil society organisations for BDS as a peaceful and non-violent means to pressure the State of Israel to end the illegal military occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem from 1967; to end the crippling blockade of Gaza which has been in operation since 2006; and to allow the internationally recognized Right of Return to Palestinian refugees to the land and homes from which Israel forcibly expelled them in 1948; and to ensure equal rights for all Palestinians living in Israel according to international law and human rights conventions.”

A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in Canberra told J-Wire: “The State of Israel is proud to support and participate in this important Festival that showcases leading artists and performances from around the world.

Israel has always and will continue to promote cultural exchange and engage in cultural dialogue in numerous countries including Australia.

Culture is a bridge to coexistence, cooperation and rapprochement and should be left out of the political arena.

We invite everyone to join us to view the artistic creation of Ohad Naharin performed by the talented Sydney Dance company.”

NSW Shadow Arts Minister Walt Secord has written to the Sydney Festival and the Sydney Dance Company: “As Deputy Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel, the NSW Patron of the Labor Israel Action Committee and as NSW Shadow Minister for the Arts, I write to express my deep concern about calls for the Sydney Festival and the Sydney Dance Company to reject Israeli government sponsorship as part of the extremist BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.

I ask you to reject these calls. Such moves have been repeatedly rejected in NSW and Australia as well as at the local government level.

An economic boycott is abhorrent and mendacious and it is counter-productive to fostering a two-State solution for Israel and the Palestinian people.

I acknowledge how difficult the past two years have been for your organisations – and I have been one of the strongest supporters of COVID support to the arts sector – so I am sure that the last thing you wish to do is to be drawn into distant geopolitical issues.

The language used in the letter to your organisations from BDS Australia is beyond repugnant and replete with outright lies and shocking exaggerations.

An examination of the organisations that purport to sign the letter reveals that they represent a minuscule (but vocal) minority. Most Australians would be outraged at this one-sided, myopic targeting of Israel.

That said I urge your organisations to reject the BDS movement and encourage your organisations not to bow to their vicious campaigns against Israel and the Jewish people.”

CEO of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Darren Bark told J-Wire: “Australia has a long and proud history of artistic, cultural, scientific and academic collaborations with many countries, including Israel that have enriched our lives at events such as the Sydney Festival.

Over the years, many embassies have co-sponsored events at the Sydney Festival that have featured performers from their countries.

We welcome the principled stance by the Sydney Festival to reject the call for BDS and support diverse art to inspire and transcend.”

Liberal MP for Wentworth Dave Sharma tweeted: “The UAE & Arab states are welcoming Israeli cultural performers & tourists, to promote peace & coexistence. But here we have the #BDS movement — opposed to coexistence — rear its ugly head in Australia. @sydney_festival must reject this categorically.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Festival responded: “Sydney Festival is not in a position to end this partnership for 2022. On a political level, Sydney Festival – being a non-political non-profit organisation – cannot join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, as per your request.”

The Herald has also reported that two groups have withdrawn their participation in the Festival due to Israel’s support.

Michael Mohammed Ahmad who won the 2019 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Multiculturalism has withdrawn his acceptance to join the board of the Sydney Festival.

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Australia have also called on UTS in Sydney to cease its partnership with The Technion.

A spokesperson for the Sydney Festival told J-Wire: “The festival will not be ending its partnership — which pertains specifically to the presentation of Decadance by Batsheva Dance Company of Tel Aviv, realised by Sydney Dance Company — with the Israeli Embassy for the 2022 festival.

While the festival will not be ending its relationship with the Israeli Embassy in 2022, the festival appreciates that these are important dialogues and is committed in both the medium and long-term to allowing the time, and allocating the resources, to give these conversations the rigour and attention they deserve.

The festival is unwavering in its commitment to ensuring a culturally safe space for all artists, employees and audiences, and will be reviewing all funding arrangements with embassies and cultural organisations to ensure that any continuance of these partnerships are compatible with maintaining a welcoming and culturally safe environment moving forward.”