Phoenix from the Sydney Festival ashes: Australia, Palestine & Israel — towards a surprising fresh start?

Introduction

  1. Explain my reasons for participating in the boycott of the festival;
  2. Respond to some of the counter arguements;
  3. Dare to imagine that Australia (currently mocked on the world stage for numerous reasons) coud be part of finding a new solution to this global, generational problem. Really? Yes. Really. Relatively speaking, Australia is a successful multi-cultural society and, with some distance from the issue, we could bring a fresh approach. In general, my hope is that from the ashes of the Sydney Festival boycott, some new positive options might emerge.

1. My reasons for participating in the boycott

a) Israel has been officially recognized as enacting apartheid

b) Israel not acting in good faith

  • The UN report found that Israel had proven a “bad-faith occupier.” The Israeli State’s actions defy its words; it has accelerated harm against Palestinians. It is NOT genuinely trying to achieve peace.

c) The dire situation of the Palestinian people

d) Silence of International community is part of the problem

2. Response to counter-arguments

a) Antisemitism? — consider actions and human rights

b). Antisemitism ? — yet many Jewish people oppose occupation

Ohad Naharin, dancer and choreographer
  • One of the most prominent Israeli stars of the Sydney Festival is dancer Ohad Naharin. He choreographed the famed Decadence performance which received the disputed Israeli Embassy funding. At the centre of the controversy, it is telling that Naharin recently said:

c). Destroying free expression, chances for dialogue and unity?

  • In Narunsky’s article, the boycott actions are described as extreme, toxic, ugly, false free speech martyrhood. Colin Rubenstein is quoted as saying his organisation “supports any reasonable effort to marginalise it and expose its ugly nature.” The ‘NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel deputy chair’ says: “Boycotts, apart from being repugnant, are inexplicable if your goal truly is a peaceful resolution to the conflict.” In this entire article, while there are strong calls for peace, not once do any commentators acknowledge Israel’s role in undermining peace or do they confront the troubling 2021 reports. An unwillingness to honestly look at the problem undermines claims that their “true goal” is “peaceful resolution.”
  • Narunsky quotes several people calling for Australian Government action and legislation against BDS, including defunding activist artists and enacting legislation to ban activist activity. It is hard to believe, but blink and you realise they are proposing solutions which represent totalitarianism. Last year, environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion launched a campaign targeting the National Australia Bank over its support for fossil fuels. Over history, various community groups have protested against a range of institutions to achieve change. Should all that be outlawed too?
  • Thus, while BDS is undertaking normal protest action typically seen in a functioning democracy, such actions are portrayed as extreme and possibly criminal activity. Meanwhile, some of the legal options Narunsky’s article discusses to protect free expression would more likely harm free expression across Australian society in general. The logic doesn’t make sense.
  • Getreu argues the boycott means anti-occupation Jewish artists are being de-platformed. He portrays the artists as BDS’s targets and victims. He laments a point which is true, but not at all in dispute by BDS: “art is always deeply political and should remain so.” This is a misreading and a redirection of the argument. The boycott is aimed at Australian institutions partnering with the Israeli State. The artists are not the target. Artistic expression is not the issue. The target is the Sydney Festival — a prominent institution in an Australian democracy, funded by taxpayers, which is expected to uphold Australian cultural ideals — which do not involve supporting apartheid.
  • Yet it is not merely an ideological issue: it is about actual harmful actions towards Palestinians and the failure of Israel to obey international law. Sharma ignores the extraordinary efforts to intimidate and stifle Palestinian expression, described by journalist Jennine Khalik.
  • Sharma asks, “What if Donald Trump is re-elected and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra plans a tour of Australia — will they also be de-platformed?” Here he mischaracterises the issue to one of banning arts performers because Australia might disprove of another countries Head of State and their decisions. That is different from Australians responding to news that another state is enacting apartheid.
  • For the Trump analogy to fly, the touring orchestra would need to be, not an independent performance, but part of a landmark Australian cultural event; be sponsored by the US State or Trump himself; facilitate other soft-power lobbying type events; and either the US State or Trump would need to be subject to a formal international judgment on serious wrongdoing or sustained, deliberate breeches of international law and human rights.
  • Australians have long protested various US Policies, as have Americans; for example, protests against the Vietnam and Iraq War. Trump encountered huge protests on visiting Europe especially. Protest activity against international actors or States is normal activity in free and democratic societies.
  • With a beautiful name, the ‘Creative Community for Peace’ is led by people from some of the worlds biggest and most powerful entertainment and cultural corporations, (“Warner Bros Records, Sony/ATV Publishing, Geffen Records, Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, William Morris Endeavor, Interscope Records, Ultra Records, AEG Presents, Capitol Records, and Amazon among many others.”) They argue:
  • Yet unfortunately the Sydney Festival was politicized by accepting the funding. It is not just the money, it’s about influence and legitimacy. Israel is listed as a ‘star sponsor’ on the festival website, but also the Israeli Embassy was going to host an invitation-only Q&A session at the Opera House described as a “private arts and culture event.” The Q&A session, now cancelled apparently due to COVID concerns, looks suspiciously like a lobbying and influence activity with Australia’s Very Important People (VIP) in the cultural sector. This is how diplomacy, influence, control of the narrative and soft power work.
  • honestly expressing their opinion, or how they feel about a situation; (and it is not ‘hate speech’);
  • saying words which they do not realize cause offence, (i.e., there is no intention to cause harm); or
  • seeking to uphold certain ethics or laws, in the case of whistleblowers.

3. A proposed alternate pathway for Australian and Middle Eastern relations

a). Another Sydney Event

b.) Join forces in the battle against the hyperthreat of climate and environmental change

c). PLAN E and Western world repatriations to the Middle East

Conclusion

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Researcher in climate emergency responses, the climate-security nexus, threat framing & narratives. Located in Regional Victoria, Australia.

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Elizabeth G. Boulton, PhD

Elizabeth G. Boulton, PhD

Researcher in climate emergency responses, the climate-security nexus, threat framing & narratives. Located in Regional Victoria, Australia.

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