Over 70 Jewish groups and individuals endorse calls to boycott Sydney festival over Israeli funding

Several artists and performers have pulled out of their scheduled events at the acclaimed Sydney festival citing Israeli sponsorship 

January 17, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
The move to boycott the Sydney Festival over a sponsorship deal with Israel has been growing in recent weeks. Photo: Ella Haber Music / BDS Australia

Just weeks after 20 performers pulled out of the 2022 Sydney festival in Australia due to Israeli sponsorship, over 70 prominent Jewish organizations and personalities from Australia endorsed the festival’s boycott in an open letter. The signatories to the letter claimed that the festival is ‘art-washing’ the brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine after the festival received a donation of over USD 20,000 from the Israeli embassy in Australia as part of a sponsorship agreement. They said that they are following the lead of Palestinians who first urged artists to boycott the festival, adding that they cannot stay silent but intend to “say loudly that Israeli apartheid, settler-colonialism, and occupation cannot be allowed to continue.”

The letter published on the Do Better on Palestine website was signed by the Jewish Voice for Labour, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Jews against Fascism, Independent Australian Jewish Voices and over 60 Jewish individuals. It said, “we Jews are eager, honored, and humbled to stand alongside our Palestinian siblings and echo their calls. We refuse to be complicit in Israel’s actions. We stand in solidarity with Palestine and Palestinians. Israel engages in daily violence. From the violence of the military courts, checkpoints, settlements, murders, land theft and daily harassment of Palestinian communities in the West Bank; to the siege on Gaza and airstrikes; to the attacks on Al Quds (East Jerusalem) in May 2021 (at the same time as the Sydney Festival was soliciting this funding), the destruction of Palestinian archives and cultural institutions, and the differential treatment of Palestinians and Jews throughout ‘48, the violence is ongoing and it is gut-wrenching. We must confront the ways in which by remaining silent or neutral on this matter we are complicit in the enabling of this injustice.”

The letter called boycott a “non-violent and effective tool” to fight injustice and oppression and stressed the importance of solidarity with indigenous and oppressed peoples in opposing colonialism. The letter noted that Australia, like Israel, is also a settler colony, taken over and inhabited by foreign occupiers. It called upon the Sydney festival to reject Israeli funding and urged people to not participate in “Israel’s program of hasbara: of propaganda, deliberate lies, mistruths and obfuscations,” referring to the academic, sports and cultural activities and events that Israel financially supports or joins.  

In the last few weeks, several well-known artists dropped out of the Sydney festival following calls by Palestinians and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Comedian Tom Ballard, the Belvoir theater production of Black Brass, former NSW politician Meredith Burgmann, First Nations dance company Marrugeku, singer Marcus Whale, commentator Yumi Stynes, artist Khaled Sabsabi, comedian and TV personality Nazeem Hussein, Indigenous rapper Barkaa, and dance ensemble Bindi Bosses were among those who pulled out from their events. 

Some others who are going ahead with their events have withdrawn from the Sydney festival banner and will be performing in an independent capacity not receiving any money from the festival. One board member of the Sydney festival, Benjamin Law, also resigned from his post over the issue of Israeli funding. He said in a statement, “while I can’t speak for the board or the festival, I am personally sorry to Sydney festival artists and arts workers that you were put in a position where you may have had to choose between your work and values, or thrust into conversations for which you may have felt unprepared.” 

He added that “It has been humbling and moving to see some of you withdraw in solidarity with Palestinians. It has been inspiring to see some of you persevere with performances in diabolically difficult circumstances. It has been sad to see some of you feel you had no choice but to withdraw from fear or frustration – often, understandably, directed at Sydney festival.”

The Palestinian-led BDS movement, established in 2005, calls on the international community to support the Palestinian resistance against Israel by boycotting state-sponsored Israeli academic and cultural institutions until it ends the illegal occupation of Palestine and apartheid regime. Along with calls for divestment and sanctions, boycotts are a peaceful, non-violent way to mobilize international pressure on Israel through which Palestinians hope to achieve freedom, justice and equality.

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