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More Than 120 Celebrities Sign Open Letter Against Boycott of Sydney Festival Over Israeli Sponsorship

Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, actress Emmanuelle Chriqui, and filmmaker Nancy Spielberg are among the more than 120 members of the entertainment industry who have signed an open letter against the boycott of the 2022 Sydney Festival, after dozens of acts pulled out of the event over its $20,000 sponsorship deal with an Israeli embassy.

The open letter, published on Thursday by the non-profit group Creative Community for Peace, calls the boycott “an affront to both Palestinians and Israelis who are working to advance peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition.” It also said the boycott “turns the festival from an opportunity for unity into a weapon of division.”

The letter continued saying that “while we all may have differing opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the best path to peace, we all agree that a cultural boycott is not the answer.”

An estimated 30 acts have so far reportedly cancelled their participation in the festival because it signed a $20,000 sponsorship agreement with the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, Australia, which will support a performance of “Decadance,” a piece by acclaimed Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. The festival said on Tuesday that despite the boycott by pro-Palestinian artists, it will not terminate its sponsorship deal with the Israeli embassy.

The festival is set to take place Jan. 6-30 and will include more than 120 events. It opened on Thursday night mere hours after another act, Tropical F**k Storm, pulled out after failing to convince the festival to refund and end their deal with the Israeli embassy. The boycott also resulted in a pro-Palestinian protest outside the Sydney Opera House this week.

CCFP’s open letter quoted comments made by Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave in 2018 when he said: “The cultural boycott of Israel is cowardly and shameful. Israel is a real, vibrant, functioning democracy – yes, with Arab members of parliament – and so engaging with Israelis, who vote, may be more helpful than scaring off artists or shutting down means of engagement.” However, Cave has not signed the new open letter.

The letter also argued that,”while art can reflect politics, and artists can choose to reflect their politics in their own art, art should never become subservient to politics and artists and cultural events should never be forced to be politicized.”

Others signatories include songwriter and producer Diane Warren; singer Deborah Conway, actor Eric Balfour, Disturbed frontman David Draiman, comedian Elon Gold, actress and producer Noa Tishby and composer Aaron Symonds.

Simmons further slammed anti-Israel activists boycotting the Sydney Festival in a recent interview with an Australian morning show, accusing the campaign of”punishing young, talented people who have nothing to do with politics.”

“I fully respect people who have a different point of view — but right time, right place. Don’t take it out on young people in the arts. They have nothing to do with politics,” he said on air. “Leave young talents alone. The arts should be free of political pressure.”

CCFP Director Ari Ingel said in a released statement, “The organizers of the Sydney Festival boycott intentionally misrepresent the truth about Israel and make provocative statements, to try and bully artists into backing out of the festival. Their messages deceptively involve an element of dishonesty and deny the truth of Jewish indigeneity to the land of Israel. Their actions only further hostility and dampen hope for peace, which all of us so urgently desire.”

“The Sydney Festival is a beautiful event celebrating Sydney’s diverse and rich culture – bringing the entire community together. Unfortunately, it’s now being used for political purposes to divide, rather than unite,” Ingel added. “The boycott movement is also counterproductive and instead of amplifying the voices of coexistence trying to effect real change on the ground, those who support the calls for a boycott are only creating more hostility, division, and mistrust.”