The Sydney Festival, which attracts some of the country's biggest names in art, comedy and music, has seen more than 20 personalities drop out
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One of the largest festivals in Australia is in severe doubt after dozens of top artists pulled out due to a hefty donation from the Israeli government.

The Sydney Festival, which attracts some of the country’s biggest names in art, comedy and music, has seen more than 20 personalities drop out after receiving a $20,000 donation from the Israeli embassy in Canberra.

Many artists, including Tom Ballard and Yumi Stynes, have withdrawn from the event to show their support for the Palestinian people after campaigners accused the festival of ‘art wash’.

‘I love the Festival and I love telling jokes, but standing up for human rights and standing against a system of apartheid is more important,’ Ballard posted to Twitter.

The Sydney Festival, which attracts some of the country's biggest names in art, comedy and music, has seen more than 20 personalities drop out

The Sydney Festival, which attracts some of the country’s biggest names in art, comedy and music, has seen more than 20 personalities drop out

The personalities quit after the event took a $20,000 donation from the Israeli embassy in Canberra

The personalities quit after the event took a $20,000 donation from the Israeli embassy in Canberra

Sydney Festival said they have been forced to drop 10 events due to the boycotts, but 118 are still set to go ahead as normal.

They say they have only received a ‘very small’ number of refund requests over the sponsorship with Israel.

Several comedians and bands quickly withdrew their support after the donation was made public, with Nazeem Hussain joining Ballard and Stynes in stepping down.

Good Morning, a musical group from Melbourne, revealed in a statement they were also quitting the festival.

‘We stand with the Palestinian people and with the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement,’ they said.

Karate Boogaloo said they would not participate in Sydney Fest because of the ‘human rights abusing regime that is the Israeli government’. 

Tom Ballard was among the first to reveal he was stepping away from appearing at the event

Nazeem Hussain followed Ballard in quitting Sydney Festival

Several comedians and bands quickly withdrew their support after the donation was made public, with Nazeem Hussain (pictured right) joining Ballard (left) and Stynes in stepping down

Yumi Stynes (pictured) was supposed to attend a talk on misogyny but has also withdrawn

Yumi Stynes (pictured) was supposed to attend a talk on misogyny but has also withdrawn

BDS Australia wrote to the director of the Sydney Festival last month, calling on them to distance themselves from the ‘apartheid’ committed by Israel on Palestine until the nation is ‘free’. 

‘Israel funds cultural events and ambassadors to ‘art-wash’ the human rights violations it perpetrates against the Palestinians by presenting itself as a normal ‘democracy’ and one which can be accepted internationally, despite its ongoing grave violations of human rights and international law,’ the group wrote to festival organisers.

They met with senior members of Sydney Fest following the writing of the letter.

The chair of the Anti-Defamation Commission, Dr Dvir Abramovich, dismissed the calls from BDS Australia, saying the their response was a sign of anti-Semitism.

‘I call on the Sydney Festival to push back against this act which is a thinly-veiled anti-Semitic slow-acting poison and to declare that they will stand strong against the BDS,’ said.

‘The Sydney Festival is an event that celebrates the principles of open conversation, equality of participation and freedom of expression, and must never succumb to the aggressive pressure tactics of intimidation.’ 

Sydney Festival (pictured in 2010) is one of the biggest events in Australia and celebrates all sectors of the arts

Sydney Festival (pictured in 2010) is one of the biggest events in Australia and celebrates all sectors of the arts

The festival’s chairman David Kirk responded to the controversy around the sponsorship in a statement on Tuesday, saying they ‘welcomed the opportunity’ to discuss the issue with the artists boycotting.  

‘We see it as the core role of the Sydney Festival to present art and to provide an inclusive platform for all artists,’ he said.

‘We respect the right of any artist to withdraw from the Festival and hope that they will feel able to participate in future festivals.

‘All funding agreements for the current Festival – including for Decadance – will be honoured, and the performances will proceed.

‘At the same time, the board has also determined it will review its practices in relation to funding from foreign governments or related parties.’

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