Why Palestinians and their allies are calling for a boycott of the Sydney Festival


By accepting funding from the Israeli state, the Sydney Festival is complicit in the “art wash” of Israel’s daily violence and the dispossession of the Palestinians. This is why boycotting the Sydney Festival is necessary, writes Jeanine Hourani.

Protesters wave Palestinian flags during an anti-Israel protest at Sydney City Hall on May 15, 2021. [Getty]

After what has been a monumental year for the Palestinian organization and resistance, none of us expected to spend the last two weeks of 2021 frantically reaching out to artists, creators and performers to ask them to do so. withdraw from a major international festival of arts and culture. . However, after learning that the Sydney Festival had appealed to the Israeli Embassy as a “star sponsor,” accepting US $ 20,000 in sponsorship, we felt we had no choice.

The call for boycott came after a declaration has been signed by a cross-section of Palestinian, indigenous and other artists, organizations and supporters, demanding that the Festival abandon its partnership with the Israeli Embassy for the sake of conscience. The declaration was signed by leading international artists, including actors Saleh Bakri and Miriam Margolyes, artist Sleiman Mansour, comedian Nazeem Hussein, poet Remi Kanazi and hip-hop artists Lowkey and Barkaa.

Despite growing calls to sever ties with the Israeli embassy, ​​the Festival refused to drop sponsorship. Our appeal was subsequently broadened: asking artists to step down, staff to withdraw their work, festival-goers to cancel their tickets and the general public to contact the board of directors.

We are responding to the call of Palestinian civil society to boycott, divest and sanction the State of Israel. This includes a cultural boycott, which is rooted in the understanding that the apartheid state uses cultural events, such as the Sydney Festival, to whitewash its daily violence against Palestinians. By accepting funding from the Israeli state, the Sydney Festival is complicit.

“These acts of solidarity are a testament to the genuine long-standing bla (c) k-Palestinian solidarity movement that is uncompromising in its resistance against white supremacy and the nationalism of settlers around the world.”

Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the boycott call aims to advance the struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. Artists, authors, creators and performers from all over the world have answered the call: play an essential role through collective acts of solidarity and resistance; speak out and fight back against Israel’s atrocities.

As always, it was the underprivileged artists who were the first to react, making the greatest sacrifices in the pursuit of justice.

Legendary black American civil rights activist Angela Davis is a long-time supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and took several hits for his position, including civil rights rewards canceled and canceled classes. In the context of the Australian settler colony, First Nations (black) writers such as Amy McQuire and Tony Birch have long supported the BDS movement and the Palestinian cause in general. So it’s no surprise that McQuire and the First Nations hip-hop artist Barkaa were among the first to lead the way and withdraw from the Sydney Festival.

These acts of solidarity exemplify the genuine and long-standing blah (c) k-Palestinian solidarity movement that is uncompromising in its resistance against white supremacy and settler nationalism everywhere: from Palestine to Turtle Island to the passing. by the Australian colony.

Although, or perhaps because, the call for a cultural and artistic boycott has gained international recognition over the past decade, Israel continues to ‘wash art’ – using arts and culture as tools. to erase Palestinian history.

Since 1948 Nakba, the State of Israel has erased and co-opted Palestinian stories and histories in their attempts to ethnically displace and cleanse indigenous Palestinians from our land. My great-grandfather was a poet from the village of Tarshiha in the northwest of historic Palestine, which is now part of the colonial state of “Israel” proper. When he was forced to leave his home, all documents and archives of his poetry were destroyed by colonial forces. The small discs that we were able to recover were framed by my grandmother and proudly hung in her living room to remind us of what we are fighting to preserve.

We continue to see the continued erasure of Palestinian stories and histories today. For Palestinians around the world, the freedom to speak, play, criticize and express is suppressed daily by the Israeli regime and its cogs.

State of Israel continues to dispossess, persecute and punish artists, including poets Dareen tatour and Mohammed el-kurd, and designer Hafez Omar. The State of Israel also commits cultural thefts, appropriating Palestinian stories and art forms. Just a few weeks ago we saw pictures Miss Universe candidates posing in Yaffa (Tel Aviv) wearing traditional Palestinian Tatreez embroidery, claiming it was Israeli attire. It was a small but important victory when, a week later, Palestinian Tatreez was declared “intangible cultural heritage of humanity‘by UNESCO.

Insidiously, the State of Israel is also using culture as a form of propaganda under the guise of “coexistence” and “cultural exchange” to cover up its apartheid regime and its colonization project. We see this in the account of self-proclaimed liberal Zionists and Zionist lobbyists who argue that a boycott of the Sydney festival will hamper “peace” between Palestinians and Israelis and, instead, ask us to use the arts as a means to catalyze ‘reconciliation’.

This is a superficial and fallacious response that deliberately disregards the underlying principle of Palestinian liberation: there is no peace without justice, and there is no justice without return of land and law. on the way back. This cannot be done without the weight of the international community, which has long allowed the Israeli occupation to act with impunity.

The platform of Zionist voices in response to our campaign also reinforces the colonial logic: that colonized peoples do not know what is best for us and cannot determine our modes of resistance, allowing our oppressors to speak deceitfully in our name regarding the violence they inflict and endorse themselves.

“When the artistic institutions, organizations and festivals that claim to serve us no longer represent our values ​​or our principles, we must create our own alter-spaces of resistance”

The late Egyptian feminist writer Nawal El-Saadawy once said: “If you are creative, you must be a dissenter.” Artistic and creative spaces must be engaged in the pursuit of justice; they must amplify indigenous voices and subvert colonial narratives, not reproduce settler violence.

When the arts institutions, organizations and festivals that claim to serve us no longer represent our values ​​or principles, we must create our own alter-spaces resistance. In the Australian colony, we have seen such spaces emerge in recent months.

An example of this is Sunday newspaper; an independent publication that was created as a boycott of an anti-Palestinian outlet, Schwartz Media. The Sunday Paper brings together the voices of Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders and Palestinians and their allies, working together in solidarity and uncompromising love to resist the colonial occupation. the Queer Solidarity Film Festival Also arose out of resistance to the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, which programmed an Israeli title funded by the Israel Film Fund, despite calls from queer Palestinians and our allies to drop the film.

These alter-spaces of resistance aim to create and recreate, imagine and re-imagine in the pursuit of justice for all. Their creation is proof that the power that artistic and cultural institutions once had to decide which voices to speak is dwindling. May we continue to see these people-fueled spaces emerge and grow stronger in 2022 and beyond, until freedom and liberation for all.

Jeanine Hourani is a Palestinian activist, organizer and storyteller.

Follow her on Twitter: @jeaninehourani

Do you have any questions or comments ? Email us at: [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board, or its team.


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