KISS’ Gene Simmons opposes Sydney Festival boycott: “It’s censorship”

At least 30 acts have withdrawn from Sydney Festival due to the event accepting funding from the Israeli Embassy

KISS‘ Gene Simmons has opposed the rising boycotts of this year’s Sydney Festival, which started due to their acceptance of $20,000 in funding by the Israeli Embassy.

Artists Against Apartheid organised the boycott, calling for those on the festival’s lineup to support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and demand that Sydney Festival divest from the funding partnership.

The boycott has led to at least 30 of the planned performances for the event being cancelled or rescheduled independently, including Barkaa, Hope D, Good Morning and Marcus Whale.

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In an interview with Sunrise this morning, Simmons said that, while he “fully supports” people’s differing political views, he doesn’t want those views taken “out on young people in the arts that have nothing to do with politics”.

“When the Chinese send a dance troupe to Australia, you’re not going to boycott them because you may have a point of view about how China treats certain people… leave that to the political pundits and let young, talented people in the arts do what they do.”

Simmons described the boycott as “censorship”, urging those boycotting to “leave young, talented people alone, no matter where they come from”.

“The arts should be free of political pressure,” Simmons continued. “It’s a simple idea. I’m not curtailing your point of view. I just want you to stop bothering young people who are talented who have nothing to do with politics.”

As reported by Sydney Morning Herald, Simmons is also one of a few notable names who have signed an open letter, by US-based organisation Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), opposing the boycott.

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The letter opens by stating that those who signed the letter “believe that cultural events are vitally important vehicles to bring people together of different backgrounds under a shared love of the arts.

“Unfortunately, this year,” the letter continues, “the spirit of the (Sydney) Festival is under attack by those calling for a boycott because the Israeli Embassy is sponsoring a world renowned Israeli dance ensemble. This call for a boycott turns the festival from an opportunity for unity into a weapon of division.”

Elsewhere, the letter reads, “We believe the cultural boycott movement is an affront to both Palestinians and Israelis who are working to advance peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition.”

The letter ends by quoting Nick Cave, who, in a 2017 email to Brian Eno, dubbed the “cultural boycott of Israel” as “cowardly and shameful”.

Other notable names who signed the letter include singer Deborah Conway, Oscar-winning film producer Emile Sherman, songwriter Diane Warren and more.

This isn’t the first time Simmons has spoken out against such boycotts, having condemned calls for a boycott of Eurovision in 2019 due to it being held in Tel Aviv in a separate open letter by the CCFP.

Protests in support of the boycott took place yesterday evening (January 6) outside the Sydney Opera House, coinciding with the beginning of the festival.

The most recent act to withdraw from the festival was Tropical Fuck Storm, who outlined in a statement why their withdrawal took so long to announce.

“Rather than immediately announce online that we’d jump ship,” the band wrote, “we thought we’d actually try to do something in the real world for everyone involved and try to encourage Sydney Festival to do the right thing and fix the problem they created.”

They continued: “Sydney Festival has stated they have no intention to refund the money or sever the sponsorship relationship, even though the shit sandwich they’ve landed every billed artist in is blatantly obvious to them.

“Due to this complete lack of respect and integrity towards the artists billed from Sydney Festival and its partners, we have decided to cancel our two appearances.”

In her statement, Barkaa, among the first acts to join the boycott, said that she “stands with Palestine always.” Funk band Karate Boogaloo, who also withdrew from the festival in support of the boycott, said that “boycotts and divestments have a strong track record of holding governments and corporations accountable for their actions.”

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