Australia/Israel Review

Media Microscope: A Pain in the Arts

Feb 1, 2022 | Allon Lee

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign may have convinced – or cajoled – about 30 acts out of the 800 or so artists, performers and staff at the Sydney Arts Festival to withdraw, but in the media the majority of articles opposed it.

BDS co-organiser Jennine Khalik’s op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald (Dec. 28), was boilerplate propaganda. Accusing Israel of apartheid, it warned that BDS is a “litmus test for progressives.” If so, Khalik has repeatedly flunked that test by ignoring Hamas’ terrorism and genocidal ambitions.

On Dec. 30, AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams’ letter in response noted that “the truth about the BDS campaign, as often stated by its leaders and as clear from Khalik’s article, is that they don’t want a Palestinian state alongside Israel, they want one instead of Israel.”

Greg Barns’ pro-BDS Mercury column (Jan. 10) asserted that critics of Israel are accused of being “anti-Semitic”.

The Mercury ran an op-ed from Hyams responding to Barns (Jan. 13). Quoting BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti’s statement, “we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” Hyams said, “the movement therefore denies for Jews the right to a state in the Jewish homeland, where Jews are indigenous and have lived for thousands of years, while demanding that right for others. This is one reason it has been widely described as antisemitic.”

On Jan. 24 in the Guardian Australia, BDS co-organiser Randa Abdel-Fattah claimed Festival organisers refusing to “listen to artists is a form of silencing.” Wouldn’t ignoring the majority of acts who rejected the campaign also be a form of silencing?

Age/SMH columnist Osman Faruqi supported boycotts, including implicitly this one, (Jan. 13) and said NSW Labor MP Walt Secord and federal Liberal MP Dave Sharma opposed it because of their “pro-Israel politics”.

In the Australian (Jan. 10), Dave Sharma explained his opposition, noting that the campaign’s “endorsement from Hamas tells you all that you need to know.”

Australian columnist Gerard Henderson (Jan. 15) highlighted the incongruity of comedian Tom Ballard who “identifies with the LGBTQI movement” supporting a campaign endorsed by Hamas, which has “executed Palestinian gays”.

The BDS movement was scrutinised in an SMH article (Dec. 29) from Executive Council of Australian Jewry Co-CEO Alex Ryvchin, who asserted that most people don’t understand “peace has always meant something different to the anti-Israel activist” who is not interested in seeing a two-state outcome.

Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman wrote, “the history of the conflict is known… The Palestinian leadership has rejected every offer to devise a just solution.” (Jan. 9)

Australian columnist Henry Ergas (Jan. 21) took on accusations of Israeli apartheid, saying that every metric shows Israel’s Arab citizens have far greater freedoms than their regional compatriots. He noted that surveys show not only do Israeli Arabs “persistently define themselves as Israelis” but even Jerusalem’s Palestinians “overwhelmingly preferred Jerusalem to remain under Israeli control.”

In the Daily Telegraph (Jan. 14) indigenous leader Warren Mundine called BDS “a biased political campaign… the idea that the State of Israel is colonisation is laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. It’s a false narrative… Jews come from the Middle East and have always lived in the Middle East.”

Similarly, lawyer Craig Emanuel in the Australian (Jan.11) noted that “more than half of Israelis [descend from Jews who] never left the Middle East when Jews were dispersed around the world by invaders centuries ago.” 

In the Daily Telegraph (Jan. 7), AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein said BDS undermines “the climate of compromise [needed for] any genuine reconciliation between the two traumatised peoples” and is counter to the mood for peace as evidenced by the normalisation agreements recently signed between Israel and four Arab nations. 

Some pieces argued that BDS is antithetical to the ethos of arts festivals – including Surinder Jain, Hindu Council of Australia vice-president in the Daily Telegraph (Jan. 12), who said BDS pushes “a message of intolerance” and “exclusion”, while NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Darren Bark said it “undermines our multicultural way of life” in the same paper on Dec. 30. 

Claire Lehmann argued in the Australian (Jan. 13) that “the notion that [artists] must now defend or justify their participation in large-scale events because others wish to politicise them is an indignity that will only wear down our already demoralised culture.” 

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the Spectator Australia (Jan. 15) welcomed the exit of “several dozen dreary lefties” and called for more such boycotts.


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