Flat White

‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ bigotry at the Sydney Festival

31 December 2021

4:00 AM

31 December 2021

4:00 AM

The Sydney Festival has been subjected to intolerable pressure for accepting a $20,000 partnership with the Israeli Embassy in Canberra. The funds are to be used to stage the dance Decadence by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin at the Sydney Opera House during the 2022 Sydney Festival in January.

Despite a number of individual performers and organisations pulling out in protest over the Israeli embassy’s sponsorship, a Sydney Festival spokesperson has said they would not be terminating their agreement with the Israeli embassy.

‘The festival is unwavering in its commitment to ensuring a culturally safe space for all artists, employees and audiences,’ the statement said.

‘[The Sydney Festival] will be reviewing all funding arrangements with embassies and cultural organisations to ensure that any continuance of these partnerships is compatible with maintaining a welcoming and culturally safe environment moving forward.’

That statement on behalf of the Sydney Festival might sound fair and reasonable however, the increase in Boycott, Diversity and Sanctions (BDS) activity in Australia should be seen as foreboding for those Australians who believe in a multicultural tolerant society because BDS is the very antithesis of that.

There are a lot of offensive Israelophobic behaviours to unpack in this sorry saga with the Sydney Festival. An article in the ‘extreme left’ publication Meanjin by a clique of pro-Palestinian activists epitomises a vicious, racist attack on artistic freedom by pro-Palestinian bullies.

Let me run through the names of those who wrote a hateful article Sydney Festival: ‘Progressive Except for Palestine’ in Meanjin. Before I do that, I would like to put paid to this ruse of ‘Progressive Except for Palestine’, which Philip Mendes has explained in an article in the journal Fathom to be the new buzzword for Palestinian supporters.

In this essay, Philip Mendes argues that the new buzzword for Palestinian nationalists, ‘Progressive except for Palestine’ aimed at progressives who do not support fundamentalist calls for the abolition of the State of Israel, is ‘not a perspective which seeks to advance principled reasonable criticism of Israel’. Rather, Mendes argues the term is ‘a viewpoint based on demonising the State of Israel and all its supporters, including the many who favour a two-state solution, and limiting freedom of speech by illiberally excluding them from progressive publications and debates’. – from Fathom.

Mendes points out that a true call should be ‘Progressive except for Jews’ with the Left having been selectively ignoring manifestations of Jewish oppression throughout history. I would go further and discount the slogan ‘Progressive except for Palestine’ as a cheap trick to demean progressiveness that ignores Palestinianism – as though there is some special virtue in supporting a cause that ignores the corrupt, misogynist, kleptocratic, and intolerant nature of the Palestinian Authority or the manifest Jew-hatred from Hamas that is abundantly evident in the annals of Palestine Media Watch.

Which brings us to Abdel-Fattah, Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Dr Paula Abood, Fahad Ali, Dr Jumana Bayeh, Alissar Chidiac, and Sara Saleh.

I have written before in The Spectator Australia about Randa Abdel-Fattah, an outright Israelophobe indeed, as we witnessed on the ABC Q&A program in May 2021.

Writer Michael Mohammed Ahmad was due to join the Sydney Festival board later this year and has now rejected the appointment. He was allegedly meant to build stronger and safer connections with Arab, Muslim, and Western Sydney communities – presumably at the expense of Jews who might hold Zionist views.

Ahmad has written about the anti-Arab reactions following 9/11 in sympathy with pro-Palestinian viewpoints that say America ‘had it coming’ as he reminisced about his time as a student at Punchbowl Boys High. Many boys of Arab descent there were ambivalent about the September 11 attacks, made anti-Jewish remarks, espoused violence, and disparaged females and homosexuals.

Paula Abood happily signs petitions that criticise Israel, including one where she condemns what she believes is ‘Israel’s latest dangerous attack on Palestinian human rights institutions in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT)’. It does not concern her that these so-called Palestinian human rights institutions have proven links with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United States, Japan, Canada, UK, and European Union.


Palestinian activist Fahad Ali was involved with the recent Melbourne Queer Film Festival BDS putsch. He remarked in a Nine-Fairfax article Pinkwashing’ Israel: How Melbourne’s Queer Film Festival became the target of protest by Karl Quinn that it is not the content of the film that is at stake.

‘The issue is the mode of cultural production, where an artist in Israel who might otherwise be well-meaning is given a conditional grant that requires […] adherence to content guidelines that prohibit a critical view of the State of Israel,’ said Sydney-based Palestinian activist, Fahad Ali.

Quinn’s article went further, saying that: ‘BDS activists claim that, in order to receive such funding, artists ‘must sign a contract that includes two clauses that declare: (1) I will not undermine the policies of the state of Israel, and (2) I will do my best to serve the policies of the state of Israel. This is state propaganda.’

I made enquiries with the Israeli Film Fund which revealed that Fahad Ali’s claims are totally false. Quinn added a note to the top of his article to advise readers as to what the Israeli Film Fund had said, but he still kept the claim from Fahad Ali intact.

Jumana Bayeh is a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University. Her research focuses on the diaspora cultures of the Arab world along with literary and cultural representations of the riot in the Middle East and beyond. She teaches various units that focus on the politics and history of the Middle East from the early twentieth century to the present. I have pity for her students, who are bound to be the brunt of pro-Palestinian indoctrination in her teaching.

Sara Saleh wrongly affirmed on an ABC program that Israel is built on a racial hierarchy ‘at the expense of brown and black bodies alike’. She, like many of her ilk, are totally oblivious of the fact that close to 50 per cent of the Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi origin i.e. brown and black-skinned Jews who came from Arab countries.

These Mizrahi Jews and Israel’s Arab citizens have ‘exactly the same voting, legal, civil and religious rights as Jews of European background’, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) informed the ABC, adding that they are ‘prominent in government, in politics, the media, academia, culture business, sport, religion, and the military’.

In the wake of a complaint from the ECAJ, an investigations manager from ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs division ‘concluded that the broadcast omitted material context and therefore was not in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standard for accuracy’. ABC News apologised for the lapse.

Among other indiscretions, Sara Saleh narrated a video accusing Israel of wanting to ‘erase the Palestinian presence from all over Palestine’ along with ‘violently dispossessing’ and ‘forcibly removing’ from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Sara Saleh is a GetUp board member and campaigner for the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN). GetUp said that it stood behind their grossly distorted video which it posted on social media demonising Israel with Sara Saleh in the driver’s seat.

So much for the credentials of the authors of the Meanjin article. Let’s now examine what they said.

Standing out was the lie about Ohad Naharin supporting BDS. In Haaretz Naharin said, ‘BDS is against the occupation, something I sympathize with. I’ve always said that if protesting and boycotting my performances would improve the situation in the territories or bring a solution to the conflict, I would support the boycott myself.’ Responding to a request from Brian Eno to cease using his musical works in an Israeli embassy-sponsored Batsheva Dance Company production in Tel Aviv in 2016, Naharin described such boycotts as ‘lazy’ and ‘essentially useless’, adding he believed there were more effective ways of helping the Palestinian cause. ‘I explicitly said I don’t support BDS, but I can relate to its agenda against the occupation,’ said Naharin.

Norman Finkelstein was a ‘rock star’ of the pro-Palestinian movement. He also came out against BDS saying, ‘I loathe the disingenuousness—they don’t want Israel [to exist]. It’s a cult.’

Finkelstein admitted to being part of a self-deceptive Maoist cult, adding that he wouldn’t do it again after the experience. He then openly accused BDS activists of ‘inflating the numbers’ of Palestinian refugees while wanting to ‘create terror in the hearts of every Israeli’ and that BDS was not interested in resolving the conflict. ‘I’m not going to tolerate what I think is silliness, childishness, and a lot of left-wing posturing.’

In the Meanjin article, the pro-Palestinian clique asked, ‘How is it that the festival can reconcile its commitment to Indigenous solidarity here while legitimizing and normalizing relations with a settler colonial apartheid state that maintains a system of racism, subjugation and land theft against Palestinians?’ This appeal to the mantra of intersectionality is particularly dishonest; it is a cynical tactic to show solidarity with other oppressed groups in order to gain their favour in return of support for the Palestinian cause.

They keep echoing the apartheid lie – the dispute with the Palestinians has nothing to do racism, which is the necessary core ingredient for what truly constitutes ‘apartheid’. Pro-Palestinian diehards need to look in their own backyard to understand what constitutes the Middle East’s real apartheid.

Noted scholar Efraim Karsh says this charge of Israeli apartheid is not only completely false, but the inverse of the truth.

Israel actually is the only apartheid-free state in the Middle East – a state whose Arab population enjoys full equality before the law and more prerogatives than most ethnic minorities in the free world, from the designation of Arabic as an official language to the recognition of non-Jewish religious holidays as legal days of rest.

By contrast, apartheid has been an integral part of the Middle East for over a millennium, and its Arab and Muslim nations continue to legally, politically and socially enforce discriminatory practices against their hapless minorities.’

These hypocrites, who like to use Meanjin as a vehicle for their Israelophobia, suggest that the Jewish national liberation movement is imperialistic. According to the American Palestinian activist Noura Erakat, with whom they align, rather than fulfilling millennia-long Jewish desires to return to their indigenous homeland, Zionism repeats the ‘colonial denial of peoples’ sovereignty beginning in the 15th century and the conquistadores’ exploration and conquest of the Americas.’

Despite massive historical and archeological evidence substantiating and complementing Jewish biblical claims to Israel, this clique no doubt dismisses this ancient Jewish heritage as being merely a concocted indigeneity.

In making their case to the Sydney Festival, the clique argued that the festival’s partnership with the State of Israel has a number of significant harmful consequences.

Firstly, they mentioned the dehumanisation of Palestinians in an allegedly horrific bombing campaign against the besieged people of Gaza last May. Of course, they completely ignore the indiscriminate, unprovoked firing of over 4,000 rockets at Israeli citizens from within civilian populated areas in Gaza – a double war crime.

Secondly, they plead the right to an environment of artistic and cultural safety. Apparently, it is impossible for those with anti-Israel views to live alongside those who may hold differing views. How comfortable can Jews in Australia feel knowing that if they reveal they are Jewish that they may then experience a barrage of anti-Israel sentiment accusing them of supporting the Jewish state?

Thirdly, they suggested that those who have decided to boycott the Sydney Festival will lose out on work, which is especially harsh for them following the Covid lockdowns we have been through that have seriously impaired the livelihoods of performance artists. May I suggest that they have the option of organising their own alternative Jew-free arts festival.

Perhaps it is time for our governments to be seriously considering anti-BDS legislation. Pressure on Sydney Festival will have a chilling effect, unless there is strong enough public support expressed for the courageous, moral stance of the Sydney Festival. Organisations will be reluctant to partner with Israel for fear of being terrorised. If we are forced to go down this path of tribalism and bigotry it would become commonplace to see white artists being sidelined in deference to coloured artists, more qualified men forcibly excluded in order to support gender equality etc – all the very antithesis of any claim to being an open, multicultural, tolerant meritocracy.

David Schulberg hosts The Israel Connexion on J-Air Radio.

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