The new year got off to a rocky start for the Sydney Festival with the call for a boycott, which saw over 30 acts withdraw from the inaugural program by new Artistic Director Olivia Ansell.


Decadance, performed by Sydney Dance Company for Sydney Festival. Photo © Daniel Boud.

The boycott was organised by a coalition representing Sydney’s Arab community, including pro-Palestinian, Arab, Indigenous and Greens groups, in protest at a $20,000 donation from Israel’s Australian embassy to support Sydney Dance Company’s production of Decadance, by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. In a letter to the Sydney Festival board, the coalition said the partnership with Israel made the festival “unsafe” for people of Arab background.

It transpired that Ansell had approached the Israeli embassy with the sponsorship proposal in July 2021. Decadance was originally choreographed for Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, which has frequently been met with protests while touring overseas, so the controversy did not come out of the blue.

The boycott received a huge amount of media coverage and generated vigorous debate. Over 1,000 artists signed a letter supporting the boycott, while Benjamin