Sydney Festival chair apologises for Israeli Embassy funding but says it won’t be returned

Almost 30 performers have boycotted the event over its funding partnership with the Israeli Embassy

The chairman of the Sydney Festival board has apologised for controversially accepting funding from the Israeli Embassy, which prompted outrage and led to the withdrawal of numerous performers.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, chairman David Kirk confirmed that it was festival management who had approached the embassy to sponsor the Sydney Dance Company’s performance of Decadence, choreographed by Israeli Ohad Naharin. Kirk said the board were unaware of the sponsorship until last November, when they noticed the Israeli embassy logo printed on a program.

He said the fallout has led to the decision to launch an independent two-member panel review when the festival concludes at the end of the month, but didn’t say whether they would continue to accept funding from foreign governments in the future.

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“We missed the opportunity to have a conversation with management and the board to understand the implications,” he told the SMH. “That’s the reason we are having a full and independent review of the processes around the taking of public money.”

“We are hoping that review will help us never put artists in the situation we put them in this year whereby they’ve felt pressured or compromised to withdraw their acts. We are very sorry that we’ve done that to artists, and we accept that we have to do better.”

News of the $20,000 in funding from the Israeli Embassy for Decadence broke in December last year. In response, the organisation Artists Against Apartheid called on performers and punters to join the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and demand organisers divest from the funding partnership.

This led to almost 30 performers pulling out, including Barkaa – who was among the first to join the boycott – as well as Marcus Whale, Good Morning, Nooky, Karate Boogaloo and more.

Tropical Fuck Storm, who announced their withdrawal last week, said they had tried to “encourage Sydney Festival to do the right thing and fix the problem they created”, but made the decision to pull out due to the festival’s “complete lack of respect and integrity towards the artists”.

Despite the controversy, the funding will not be returned to the Israeli Embassy, with Kirk telling the Guardian: “That’s not something we think is appropriate in the circumstances.”

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