Major performers dump Sydney Festival over Israeli sponsorship

At least 30 major artists, performers and organizations have pulled out of the Sydney Festival in Australia over a $20,000 sponsorship deal with the Israeli embassy.

Comedian Tom Ballard stated that “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.”

“I respectfully ask that Sydney Festival review its decision and return the funding in question, and I call on other artists to consider joining this boycott, too,” Ballard added.
Fahad Ali, an activist and scholar, noted that the festival has lost 10 percent of its performers in order to retain the one percent of its budget from Israeli government funds.
Some of the performers who have canceled their festival gigs have managed to book independent shows apart from the festival lineup.

A protester mops the ground next to a bucket that says Artwash 4 Apartheid

Palestinian rights activists protested outside the Sydney Festival’s opening night venue. (Palestine Justice Movement Sydney)

Activists with Do Better on Palestine have started a pledge for artists to drop their Sydney Festival gigs in support of the Palestinian call for boycott and encourage others to do so.

“Sydney Festival has left us no choice but to withdraw from the Festival and call on others to boycott,” the pledge states.

“We cannot be complicit in the oppression of Palestinians or any other people for that matter. We will not perform in or attend a Festival where the Israeli regime rainbow-colored logo is used to artwash the violence, ethnic cleansing and crimes inflicted upon the Palestinian people,” it adds.

Palestine Justice Movement Sydney held a demonstration outside the opening night’s venue.

The group said on Thursday that the festival “has been rocked by the withdrawals of 30 acts, with more to follow, as a result of the board’s ongoing complicity with Israel, which uses the arts to disguise its apartheid practices, human rights abuses and war crimes.”

Artwashing scheme

Campaigners with BDS Australia have been organizing since early December, urging the festival leaders to reject the Israeli government sponsorship of the performance.

The festival board has stated that it is “conscious of the calls for artists and audiences to boycott the Festival in relation to the Israeli Embassy’s financial support” of a dance performance, Decadance, by the Sydney Dance Company.

“We spent time with a number of groups who have concerns about this funding and welcomed the opportunity to engage with them,” the board adds.

However, it notes that “all funding agreements for the current Festival – including for Decadance – will be honored, and the performances will proceed.”

The dance performance was created in partnership with the Batsheva Dance Company, which has faced protests and boycott calls for years around the world.

Israel’s foreign ministry has called the Batsheva Dance Company “the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.”

The dance company has been part of the “Brand Israel” campaign to help market a liberal image of Israel.

The Sydney Festival board claims it “will review its practices in relation to funding from foreign governments or related parties.”

Rising support for Palestine

Meanwhile, KISS’ Gene Simmons, an ardent Zionist and notorious Islamophobe, joined other high-profile entertainment industry figures who signed a counter-boycott letter claiming that “art should never become subservient to politics” and denouncing the cultural boycott campaign. The letter was authored by Creative Community for Peace, a front group for the far-right Israel lobby organization StandWithUs.

But the cultural boycott movement is growing, despite objections from the former rock star.

Human rights activists say that the rapid success of the festival boycott is due to rising support for Palestinian rights across Australia.

“I stand with Palestine always and I’m pulling out of all events associated with Sydney Festival,” wrote hip-hop artist Barkaa on her Instagram page on 22 December.

“We as a nation live in a time where we should know better, so we should do better,” she added.



Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

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).