The call for artists to boycott the festival came in response to revelations it had secured a $ 20,000 sponsorship deal with the Israeli Embassy in Australia, to help organize a dance performance. Boycott organizers described the arrangement as an example of “art laundering” – where the Israeli government uses its resources to sponsor the arts and receives public support to do so (Israel is described as a “star” partner on the Sydney Festival website). This association with the arts, generally seen as a radical and progressive space, helps distract from Israeli policies aimed at Palestinians.
Whatever a person, patron or politician may think of Israel, its settlements, or its bombing of Gaza, it is quite understandable, and indeed very likely, that a number of artists associated with the Sydney Festival feel uncomfortable being associated with an event. which is partly sponsored by the Israeli government.
Withdrawing from the festival in response is a thoroughly rational decision, understandable both at the artist’s individual moral level and as part of a larger collective effort to make a statement about these kinds of partnerships.
The call to financially punish artists or organizations that choose to take this kind of action smacks of desperation. The idea that a dancer, singer, writer or actor is forced by government decree to go on stage and perform is absurd. No artist should be forced to perform in collaboration with an organization whose values do not match theirs.
Liberal federal deputy Dave sharma also criticized the boycott, describing it as “fundamentally at odds with the goals of art and culture,” a statement that is completely ahistoric. According to Sharma, “cultural and artistic exchanges are seen as a means of promoting peace and coexistence”.
It is true that art can be used to bring people together and help forge a common purpose. But it is just as true that deciding when and under what conditions to perform is also a lever that artists have to generate discussion and advocate for social change. This has been the case throughout history.
Sharma is a member of a government that has no problem withdrawing funding from all kinds of ideologically based institutions and initiatives. Most recently, the federal government has come under heavy criticism for veto research funding, approved by an independent agency because it did not believe that the research projects were in the “national interest”. Some of these projects included research on attitudes to climate change and Australia’s relationship with China.
These types of policies stifle discussion, debate or cultural learning much more than a boycott of an arts festival could ever be.
Whether in the context of labor rights, the right to freedom of expression, or even more fundamentally the right of people to do or not do what they want, for whatever reason, boycotts are an essential and necessary part of public life.
Of course, it’s likely that Secord and Sharma really know this. Their opposition to this boycott probably has more to do with their pro-Israel policies (Secord is the deputy chairman of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel, while Sharma is a former Australian ambassador to Israel) than any coherent theoretical position on the boycotts themselves.
But if so, this is the point they should make. If they want to defend the policy of the Israeli government, then they should do so, rather than hiding behind a smokescreen and pretending that artists making decisions about how and when to perform their art is some kind of activity. harmful.
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