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Artists withdraw from next year’s Sydney Festival over Israeli funding concerns

Malyangapa, Barkindji rapper Barkaa has boycotted the 2022 Sydney Festival. Photo: Facebook/Barkaa

By TOKS OGUNDARE

Several artists and arts organisations have withdrawn from the 2022 Sydney Festival over its decision to accept funding from the Israeli Embassy in Canberra.

The boycott has led to the withdrawal of high profile names including the Arab Theatre Studio, the Bankstown poetry slam, dance company Bindi Bosses, Blake Prize-winning artist Khaled Sabsabi, Darumbal and South Sea Islander journalist Amy McQuire, comedian Nazeem Hussain, and Malyangapa, Barkindji rapper, Barkaa.

“I stand with Palestine always and I’m pulling out of all events associated with the Sydney Festival,” Barkaa wrote via Instagram. “We as a nation live in a time where we should know better, so we should do better.”

An open letter, so far signed by over 200 artists and community members, urged that the festival end its partnership with the Israeli Embassy as a “matter of conscience”.

Calls to boycott next January’s Sydney Festival began after the festival received a $20,000 sponsorship from the Israeli government to support the Sydney Dance Company’s production of Decadence, involving Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin.

A press release by the Palestinian Justice Movement Sydney revealed that the deal was made in May, the month Israeli armed forces launched a series of airstrikes on Gaza and killed 256 Palestinians.

The group argues that by pursuing the partnership the Sydney Festival “will be complicit in Israel’s strategy to art-wash its crimes”.

In response to the concerns raised, the festival’s board wrote that the Sydney Festival is a “non-political, non-profit organisation”.

On December 17, a representative from the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement met with the Chair of the festival, David Kirk, and its Executive director Chris Tooher, asking that the festival reconsider the sponsorship.

According to a statement published on the organisation’s website, the Board responded that it would “review [its] approach to sponsorships”, but ultimately moved ahead with the deal.

Festival Response

In a statement provided to The Guardian, a Sydney Festival spokesperson confirmed they will not be terminating the agreement made with the Israeli embassy.

“The festival is unwavering in its commitment to ensuring a culturally safe space for all artists, employees and audiences”, the spokesperson said.

“[The festival] will be reviewing all funding arrangements with embassies and cultural organisations to ensure that any continuance of these partnerships are compatible with maintaining a welcoming and culturally safe environment moving forward.”

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