Media Microscope: A festive time
Mar 1, 2023 | Allon Lee
In February, the 2023 Adelaide Writers’ Week attracted the kind of publicity that money can’t buy – most of it negative – as its Director, publisher Louise Adler, faced intense criticism for some of her choices.
As News Corp’s David Penberthy reported in the Australian (Nov. 16), “Ukrainian and Jewish leaders have condemned Adelaide Festival Writers Week for giving a platform to [Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa]…a fierce critic of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky whom she has described as ‘a depraved Zionist trying to ignite World War III’” and Palestinian poet Mohammed El-Kurd who “has… accused Zionists of eating the organs of Palestinians and ‘lusting’ for Palestinian blood.”
Adler was quoted defending their participation, saying, “We should encourage a diversity of opinion and create a brave space, a courageous space.”
But as AIJAC’s Justin Amler and Tammy Reznik observed in the Australian (Feb. 18), the festival invited seven writers “listed as being from Palestine – and none from Israel,” which “seems to run counter to the ‘notion of truth’ festival director Louise Adler says she seeks to promote.” They also asked why these writers should receive a visa to enter Australia to attend when “many rightfully argued [the rap artist] Ye should not receive a visa on character grounds, given his public statements promoting hatred” against Jews.
On Feb. 16, Association of Ukrainians in South Australia President Frank Fursenko expressed his disgust on ABC Radio Adelaide, saying, “Ukraine… a neutral nation, has just been invaded, and everyone can see every day on television what the Russians are doing…This…woman[’s]…going to be given a stage here to espouse her particular point of view.” Adler defended Abulhawa, saying “if we want to understand what is behind the invasion of Ukraine, who better to platform than someone who is an expert in the history of Russia?”
In Adelaide’s Advertiser (Feb. 16), Penberthy wrote, “Our premiere arts festival is about to give a platform to someone who thinks this inexcusable war is pretty much the fault of the Ukrainian people themselves for electing a democratic government that dared float the idea of joining NATO to shield itself against Russian expansionism.” He also questioned Adler’s notion of “brave[ry]” if “10 people speaking at Writers Week, all…have the exact same view on the Palestinian cause.”
On Feb. 16, the Advertiser editorialised, “robust debate is welcome. But arguments must be based on evidence, not hateful bile.” On Feb. 23, the paper called for “Ms Adler [to] resign her position with the festival and head back to her home state of Victoria.” It also reported that two Ukrainian writers had withdrawn from the festival in protest.
In the Australian (Feb. 20), Zionist Federation of Australia President Jeremy Leibler contrasted the Adelaide situation with the “confected outrage and intimidation” experienced by artists at the 2022 Sydney Festival at the hands of pro-Palestinian activists who demanded it be boycotted because it included a “non-political [dance] performance that made no reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
A Nine Newspapers report (Feb. 22) noting Writers’ Week sponsor MinterEllison was boycotting it in protest was given the misleading headline “Law firm boycotts festival over inclusion of Palestinian authors” in the Age. The problem is not Palestinian authors but the expression of anti-Jewish and anti-Ukrainian bile.
A letter from AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams published in the Age the next day commended MinterEllison for “understanding the difference between free speech and racism.”
On Feb. 21, News Corp websites ran a short op-ed by the former Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) head Sam Shahin who lamented that “We used to say: ‘we disagree with you, so you are wrong’. Today’s dangerous narrative seems to have shifted to ‘we disagree with you, so therefore you must be a bad person.’” Yet AFOPA promotes boycotts of Israel.
News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt slammed the festival (Feb. 23), saying, “taxpayers are funding what is meant to be a week of talk about books and authors…but what they’re getting is actually a hate-fest of the Left, denouncing Australia, Israel and the US.”
Meanwhile, Nine Newspapers columnist Osman Faruqi (Feb. 23) called for a timeout on “cancel culture”, framing the issue as irate pro-Israel activists accusing writers of antisemitism – conveniently leaving out the Ukrainian community. His plea was also inconsistent because, in January 2022, he urged understanding for artists wanting to boycott the Sydney Festival to protest Israel.