LONDON: The chair of Sydney Festival, which has been boycotted by scores of artists over an agreement with the Israeli government, has issued a public apology, saying he regrets the distress caused to artists.
David Kirk told Guardian Australia that the festival board was unaware of the sponsorship deal with the Israeli Embassy in Canberra until he noticed the Israeli government logo on the festival program in late November.
“It was just a miss. We followed all of our normal processes,” he said. “And the next question becomes … are your normal processes fit for purpose in the current environment? And that’s something that we’re going to look into in the independent review that we have confirmed and absolutely committed to undertaking.”
At the start of this year, it emerged that dozens of acts had decided to boycott Sydney Festival 2022 over a sponsorship deal agreed with the Israeli government.
Kirk said an independent review would be launched into the festival’s sponsorship-approval process.
“We don’t want to preempt the review,” he added. “We just need to make sure it’s independent. The board has already had discussions about the broad nature of it … and we will work with (the independent reviewers) on the terms of reference, and get on with it as soon as the festival is over.”
But he rejected the idea that the festival return the $20,000 provided by Israel in order to quell dissent among festival acts.
“That’s not something we think is appropriate in the circumstances,” he said. “I think if we had understood, had the foresight to realize that this would be the sort of issue that it has become, then we would have had detailed discussions and we would have considered what the best way forward was, but we didn’t.”
He added: “We are very sorry for the fact that we put artists in a situation where they felt compromised or have been pressurized, and have either been in a position where they’ve felt the need to withdraw their work or continue with their work (and) have been subjected to pretty serious social media pressure to withdraw.
“We really regret that. We accept that we caused that and the review that we intend to undertake is focused on ensuring this never happens again.”
Israel provided the money to fund a Sydney Dance Co. production of “Decadence,” devised by Tel Aviv choreographer Ohad Naharin.
There are conflicting reports as to exactly when the deal was reached. An Israeli Embassy spokesperson said festival organizers approached the embassy with the sponsorship proposal in early July.
But the Sydney-based Palestinian Justice Movement said the deal was reached in May 2021 — the same month Israeli jets were bombing Gaza, killing 250 Palestinians and wounding many more.