Some thirty acts have announced the cancelation of their performances or attendance at the Sydney Festival, a major arts festival that started Thursday in Australia’s biggest city. They argue that the festival is supporting Israel as an oppressor state, and that it is ignoring the plight of Palestinians.
Acts that have announced their withdrawal include stage play “Seven Methods Of Killing Kylie Jenner,” comedians Tom Ballard and Nazeem Hussain, local band Tropical Fuck Storm, Indigenous intercultural dance theatre company Marrugeku, the Bankstown Poetry Slam, and broadcaster Yumi Stynes.
They are angry at the festival board’s decision to accept a A$20,000 ($14,300) donation from the Israeli embassy in support of “Decadance,” a show based on work by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company and the Sydney Dance Company. The donation also earns Israel a listing as a “star partner” on the festival’s website.
Producer, Green Door said in a statement: “in light of Sydney Festival seeking and accepting funding from the Israeli Embassy seven methods of killing kylie jenner has no other choice but to withdraw and boycott the festival. We will not be coerced into complicity.” The statement added that the play will be performed outside the festival. Green Door accused festival organizers of filing in their “self-professed responsibility ‘to provide a culturally safe space for all artists, employees and audiences’.”
Palestine Justice Movement Sydney organizer Fahad Ali was quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as having said: “art-washing human rights violations” was “not acceptable.”
But other acts have been equally angered by the boycotts. Kiss front-man Gene Simmons, Australian musician Deborah Conway and film-maker Nancy Spielberg are among 120 entertainment industry figures reported to have sign an open letter against the boycott.
Operating under the umbrella of the Creative Community for Peace, the signatories said the boycott is “an affront to both Palestinians and Israelis who are working to advance peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition.”
The festival put out its own statement on Tuesday, saying that the show will go on. “The Board is also conscious of the calls for artists and audiences to boycott the Festival in relation to the Israeli Embassy’s financial support of a performance by the Sydney Dance Company of a work, ‘Decadance,’ by world renowned Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. The Sydney Festival Board wishes collectively to affirm its respect for the right of all groups to protest and raise concerns. We spent time with a number of groups who have concerns about this funding and welcomed the opportunity to engage with them. All funding agreements for the current Festival – including for ‘Decadance’ – will be honored, and the performances will proceed. At the same time, the Board has also determined it will review its practices in relation to funding from foreign governments or related parties,” it said.
The festival, which runs until Jan. 30, 2022, receives approximately 30% of its funding from state and city governments with the balance made up of donations, sponsorship and ticket sales.
The COVID situation means that the festival requires all patrons to buy their tickets online, to check in via the Service NSW QR Code and confirm their double vaccination status or provide documentation for a medical exemption. Face masks are mandatory at all ticketed events for all adult patrons and at all times while inside foyers, theatres and outdoor venues.
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