Jeremy Leibler, The Australian, 20 February 2023
It’s telling to compare the fracas generated last year by Sydney Festival’s inclusion of a dance performance created by an Israeli and sponsored by the embassy of Israel with the scenario playing out at this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. The catalyst for confected outrage and intimidation of artists in Sydney was this: an utterly non-political performance that made no reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – rather, a celebration of the works of an internationally esteemed choreographer, who happens to have an Israeli passport.
On that basis alone, a handful of artists pulled out of the festival, describing it as “a culturally unsafe space for Palestinians, artists, organisations (and) Arabic-speaking communities”. Boycott organisers then turned attention to performers who remained on the program, unleashing a social media campaign of hatred and intimidation. More performers pulled out, not out of solidarity with the Palestinians but, as one explained, because they were copping “online harassment, bullying, smear campaigns, ridiculous accusations, misrepresentations and abuse from total strangers who have no idea what’s actually going on behind the scenes, what any artist’s position is or even what they’re talking about”.
In comparing the scenario that played out in Sydney with the one about to play out in Adelaide, it’s worth emphasising the former wasn’t triggered by a program that gave voice to a Zionist narrative. But the latter will feature a procession of fanciful, one-eyed representations of Israel as uniquely evil and Palestinians as its irreproachable victims.
Marketed as an exploration of the notion of truth – “truths we acknowledge, truths we feel are debatable and those beyond debate”, Adelaide Writers’ Week 2023 is set to promote an embittered version of “truth” designed and bound to provoke hatred and division among Australians.
In the guise of commenting on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, one of the international speakers, Mohammed el-Kurd, accuses Israel and the Jewish movement for self-determination (Zionism) as a “death cult” with an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood”, and of harvesting Palestinian organs to feed Israeli soldiers.
As discussed in The Weekend Australian by policy analysts from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, el-Kurd alleges Jews are preparing to invade Muslim holy sites and constantly compares Israel to Germany under the Nazis, an allegation as incorrect as it is offensive to Jews across the globe. He glorifies the murderous Palestinian intifada and its campaign of suicide bombs that have killed many hundreds of civilian Israeli men, women and children.
Another writer on the Adelaide program, Susan Abulhawa, describes Israel as “a nation of degenerates” that tortures children. She denies Jewish indigeneity to the land and calls for “armed resistance” (a euphemism for terrorism) and for Israel to be destroyed. Abulhawa’s version of truth is: “Israel is demonic. Sadistic. It is the manifestation of the most base of human impulses. Only this abomination has relentlessly pursued the utter erasure of another people as a matter of daily routine over the past decades since it was first spawned by devils.”
This vicious hatred of Israel quite clearly crashes over the line into anti-Semitism because it fuels hatred of not just Israel but of Jews. And it works – well-intentioned people fed a one-sided diet of lies come to hate Israel and anyone who defends its existence.
Such hatred has led to Jews – not Israelis, but Australian Jews – facing death threats, physical intimidation and heartbreaking alienation because of their actual or perceived support for Israel. The situation is particularly acute on university campuses, where many Jewish students now choose to hide their identity or stay away entirely.
Were El-Kurd and Abulhawa aberrations on the Adelaide Writers’ Week program, it might be considered a stuff-up. But event director Louise Adler has curated a program that includes a disproportionate number of writers who are Palestinians or activists for the Palestinian cause. People such as Adler will forcefully deny their enabling and indirect encouragement of Israel hatred is anti-Semitic. And while they may not be motivated by a personal hatred of Jews, their actions have consequences – they might not have anti-Semitic intent, but they have an anti-Semitic effect.
The simple question Adelaide festival organisers and sponsors should ask themselves is whether they would have included a writer whose version of the truth is to demonise the right to self-determination of any other minority group. If the answer is no, then Adelaide Writers’ Week has an anti-Semitism problem.