More Artists Have Pulled Out Of Sydney Festival Over Israeli Embassy Funding

The festival has been slammed for 'artwashing' after accepting the $20,000 sponsorship.

Sydney Festival

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More acts have pulled out of Sydney Festival amid calls for a boycott over the event receiving financial support from the Israeli Embassy.

Duo Good Morning joined a growing number of performers — including Betty Grumble and Elizabeth Burton, musician Marcus Whale, and Melbourne group Karate Boogaloo — in stepping away from the arts festival over a $20,000 donation from the embassy in Canberra. The donation will fund Sydney Dance Company’s production of ‘Decadence’ by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin at the Opera House.

“Boycotts and divestments have a strong track record of holding governments and corporations accountable for their actions which is why Karate Boogaloo is standing in solidarity with Palestinian people and boycotting the Sydney Festival as a result of it accepting money from the human rights abusing regime that is the Israeli Government,” the band said in a statement on Monday.

Sydney Festival, which begins on Thursday, said in a previous statement to the Guardian that they would review funding options after the festival’s conclusion, and were committed to “ensuring a culturally safe space for all artists, employees, and audiences”.

However, in a letter last month, they also wrote they were “not in a position” to end the controversial partnership in 2022. “On a political level, Sydney Festival — being a non-political non-profit organisation — cannot join the [Palestinian-led] Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement,” they said.

“This statement is disingenuous,” an open letter titled ‘Artists Against Apartheid‘ responded. “Existing on stolen land is political. Making art is political. The Sydney Festival Star Partnership with the Israeli Embassy serves to artwash the Israeli regime’s violent control over the lives of Palestinians, and enables the apartheid state to continue to breach the human rights of Palestinians with impunity. Accepting funding from a settler-colonial apartheid regime is political.”

Rappers Barkaa and Nooky, installation artist Karla Dickens, and Arabic musical ensemble Dandana have also withdrawn in solidarity, alongside comedian Nazeem Hussain, writer Amy McQuire, artist Khaled Sabsabi, and more.

“It’s unfathomable and unforgivable that Sydney Festival has put artists in this untenable position, and then doubled down — causing communities a lot of pain, at an already difficult time,” activist Sara Saleh tweeted on Monday. “Reinforces the exclusionary, performative politics of such institutions.”

“Many of these artists have a lot to lose, and despite this, did not hesitate,” said boycott organiser Jennine Khalik. “I want to focus on them and their moral courage. Everything else is noise.”

In an updated statement released on Tuesday, Chair of the Sydney Festival Board David Kirk acknowledged the boycott calls and said they had listened to a number of concerns raised. As previously stated, Kirk confirmed that Sydney Festival would honour the existing funding agreements, with a commitment to review partnerships with foreign bodies in the future.

“We see it as the core role of the Sydney Festival to present art and to provide an inclusive platform for all artists. We aim to profile a diverse representation of work by artists and companies locally, nationally and internationally. We respect the right of any artist to withdraw from the Festival and hope that they will feel able to participate in future festivals,” said Kirk.

“We likewise respect the many artists who continue to look forward to their participation in this year’s Sydney Festival and welcome them, and audiences to view the art they will present and its myriad of perspectives.

“As a Board we ask for respectful dialogue by all individuals and organisations when engaging with artists, especially for the personal decisions that artists make.”