Australian artists boycott Sydney Festival for sponsorship deal with Israeli embassy

Australian artists boycott Sydney Festival for sponsorship deal with Israeli embassy
2 min read
31 December, 2021
A number of Australian artists and organisations have pulled out of next month's Sydney Festival over a $20,000 sponsorship deal with the Israeli embassy
Australian activists denounced Israeli violence on Palestine [Getty]

A number of Australian arts organisations have chosen to boycott a festival over a sponsorship deal with the Israeli embassy.

The annual Sydney Festival, which is due to take place between 6 and 30 January, describes itself as "a celebration of art, performance and big ideas."

This year, it received a sponsorship from the Israeli embassy worth $20,000 in a deal to stage a production of Decadence, a play by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. The deal was deplored by a number of artists, who decided to boycott this year's festival. 

The boycott came after a statement condemning the deal was written up and signed by international artists, including actors Saleh Bakri and Miriam Margolyes, artist Sleiman Mansour, comedian Nazeem Hussein, poet Remi Kanazi, and hip-hop artists Lowkey and Barkaa.

Among the artists who have withdrawn from the festival is Karla Dickens, who reflected upon her own indigenous background in solidarity with Palestine.

"As a First Nations artist of Australia, I withdraw my work Return to Sender from the 2022 Sydney Festival program in protest at the negligence and complete disregard of cultural safety and duty of care on the part of the festival with regard to participating artists, including myself."

Last week, the Palestinian Justice Movement Sydney said in a statement that the deal was signed in May - the same month that Israel launched a deadly 11-day bombing campaign on Gaza, killing 256 Palestinians.

"The Israeli government uses culture to hide its apartheid practices and present itself as a free, fair and enlightened democracy. By partnering with Israel, Sydney Festival will be complicit in Israel's strategy to art-wash its crimes, and contribute to the normalisation of an apartheid state", the advocacy group said in a statement.

Voices

The non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement says it is inspired by the campaign that targeted South Africa's apartheid regime, and is seeking to put an end to Israel's brutal occupation of the West Bank.

The campaign aims to pressure Israel to adhere to international law and human rights by lobbying various states, institutions and personas to understand and take action on the oppression of Palestinians, including by severing ties with Israel.

Israel says the movement is a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism – a claim activists firmly deny, calling it an attempt to discredit them.