Boycott of Israel-sponsored Sydney Festival gains momentum

Sydney Festival organizers had planned for a private event at the Sydney Opera House, hosted by the Israeli embassy (Bernard Spragg)

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada  /  January 12, 2022

Artists are continuing to pull their performances from the Sydney Festival in Australia over its sponsorship by the Israeli government.

On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that an Israeli diplomat in Canberra claimed that festival organizers had approached the embassy asking for financial contributions.

According to correspondence seen by the newspaper, the festival’s board chair wanted to use some of the Israeli government’s $20,000 donation for a private event hosted by the embassy at the Sydney Opera House.

The invitation-only event has been reportedly canceled over COVID-19 precautions, but the festival’s board continues to retain the Israeli government funds – prompting more artists to withdraw.

At least 40 creatives now have refused to cross the international picket line, canceling their festival gigs.

In a high-profile move, the production team of the play Chewing Gum Dreams withdrew on 7 January “in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

Chewing Gum Dreams’ playwright, Michaela Coel, is the creator and star of the acclaimed HBO series I May Destroy You.

“We are boycotting the festival and are withdrawing our labor from it as a direct result of the Sydney Festival accepting funds from the Israeli embassy,” the play’s production team stated on Instagram.

“We do not stand for apartheid. We do not stand for cultural persecution,” the team added.

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters celebrated the announcement, tying it to the recent victory by Palestine Action members who forced an Israeli weapons factory to shut down in Oldham, UK.

Other artists who have pulled their festival gigs over the past week have made similar solidarity statements with Palestinians.

Dancing team West Ball stated they don’t condone the funding from the Israeli embassy.

“Sydney Festival’s selfish action politically implicated everyone involved in the festival due to their decision. We must stand with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the face of art-washing war crimes by the Israeli state,” the group said.

Meanwhile, Creative Community for Peace – a front group for the far-right Israel lobby group StandWithUs – is deploying musicians such as Gene Simmons of KISS and Nick Cave to attack the boycott and smear activists for Palestinian rights.

But the festival boycott is only gaining momentum.

“We salute the many artists and arts organizations, particularly Indigenous artists, who have withdrawn in meaningful solidarity with the Indigenous Palestinian people living under Israel’s decades-old regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid,” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said.

“Recognizing that opportunities for artists have been drastically limited in this pandemic, PACBI appreciates that so many artists have prioritized ethical considerations and withdrawn,” the group added.

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014)