Sydney Writers’ Festival: Reject Partnerships with Apartheid Israel

A Palestinian man inspects the damage to a library inside al-Eslah mosque after local witnesses said it was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza November 18, 2006.  REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA) - RTR1JGJZ

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To the organisers of the Sydney Writers’ Festival:

It has recently come to our attention that the festival has received support from the Israeli embassy for one of its panels (Assaf Gavron: The Wild West Bank). We have no objection to the author or his work, but rather to the institutional relationship that brings him to the festival. Sustaining a partnership with the Israeli embassy at this time serves to normalise and legitimate Israel’s many violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.

In 2008 an Israeli invitee to the festival revealed that Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered funding for his visit to Sydney on the condition that he would “promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.” Whether or not such contracts are still in use today, the purpose of Israeli sponsorship remains the same: to use culture to whitewash Israel’s image abroad.

This year’s festival theme asks the question “How to Live?” We reply: by avoiding complicity with historical and ongoing injustices, with practices of occupation, colonialism, and apartheid.

The people of Gaza are still struggling to recover from the bloody 51-day assault last year, which left over 2100 Palestinians – including around 500 children – dead, displaced a fourth of the population, and involved numerous potential war crimes. The world’s silence towards this atrocity has only emboldened Israel’s war camp: this month saw the election of an extreme right-wing government with ministers who have publicised calls for the genocide of the Palestinians.

While we in Sydney celebrate the pleasure of reading, Israel denies this same pleasure to the Palestinians. Along with schools and universities, the 2014 assault also destroyed two libraries in Gaza, and Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian territories regularly prevents shipments of books from reaching readers. The occupation also restricts the ability of Palestinian writers to travel abroad to festivals such as yours.

Since 2005, Palestinian civil society has called on people of conscience around the world to engage in a peaceful campaign of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel in order to force it to comply with international law. The BDS movement has grown exponentially since then, attracting support from a range of cultural and literary figures around the globe, including Naomi Klein, Arundhati Roy, Cornell West, and John Pilger.

We appeal to the organisers of the Sydney Writers’ Festival to withdraw the current sponsorship arrangement with the Israeli embassy, and henceforth to refrain from collaboration with it. This is not, we emphasise, a call to isolate or boycott individual Israeli authors, but to renounce business as usual with the organs of a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights with impunity.

As was the case in South Africa, where international solidarity played a crucial role in bringing down apartheid by boycotting the economic, sports and cultural institutions of the apartheid regime, we request that you not partner in any capacity with the Israeli government and other complicit institutions, until Israel fulfils its obligations under international law and recognises the Palestinian people’s right to live in full equality and freedom in their homeland.