Sydney Festival Has Kind Of Apologised For Israeli Embassy Funding, Will Still Keep The Money

Festival organisers also claimed artists are being "pressured" to withdraw.

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Sydney Festival has addressed how they handled their controversial Israeli Embassy funding deal after widespread backlash this month, yet have still committed to keeping the money.

They’ve been under fire for accepting the $20,000 “star partnership” for the Sydney Dance Company’s run of Decadence by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, and accused of ‘artwashing’ Israel’s treatment of Palestinian struggle.

Chair David Kirk said he first learned of the funding when he saw the embassy logo on the Sydney Festival program. “I guess we just missed it,” he said. “I mean, that’s all we can say.”

This is despite the embassy saying on Wednesday that they were directly approached by festival management to financially support the event in the first place.

He acknowledged the situation had put artists in a difficult position, telling the ABC on Thursday that many people on the programme felt “compromised”, and “are being pressured to withdraw their performances from the festival.”

“And we’re very sorry about that,” he told the ABC. “That is something we would never have wanted to do, and we never want to see happen again.”

Boycott organiser Jennine Khalik hit back, saying this is completely untrue, saying performers had been approached “with love and empathy”, with the campaign only informing of the partnership, and leaving people to make their own decisions.

“The institutions are the boycott target. Not artists. Artists have agency, and the fact that this needs to be repeated over and over and over again is astounding. Does Sydney Festival believe that they programmed artists who cannot think for themselves? Extremely patronising,” she said.

“The statements issued by artists who withdrew, especially First Nations’ artists, lead with their solidarity for Palestinians against Israel’s brutal apartheid regime. They look, they see us. Their motivation has been anti-colonial, anti-racist solidarity, not damage control,” said Palestinian activist Randa Abdel-Fattah of the interview.

More than 30 acts have withdrawn from the festival so far, accounting for one-fifth of the overall programming. An open letter by group ‘Do Better On Palestine‘ has accrued over a hundred signatures calling on Sydney Festival to drop the partnership.