Adelaide Festival sponsor pulls support over Palestinian authors at Writers’ Week

Adelaide Festival sponsor pulls support over Palestinian authors at Writers’ Week

ABC News (AU)

Law firm MinterEllison has expressed reservations about the upcoming appearances of Susan Abulhawa and Mohammed El-Kurd. (Adelaide Writers’ Week) / © Provided by ABC News (AU)

Amajor sponsor of the Adelaide Festival has withdrawn its public support for this year’s event in a gesture of protest, saying it was concerned about the potential for “racist or anti-Semitic commentary” at Writers’ Week.

Law firm MinterEllison said it has “strongly expressed” reservations to event organisers over the appearance of novelist and scholar Susan Abulhawa and poet Mohammed El-Kurd.

Festival organisers have hit back, saying while they respect the firm’s decision, they are resolved to ensure next month’s Writers’ Week remained a platform for “civil dialogue and the contest of ideas”.

Ms Abulhawa’s upcoming appearance was last week the subject of controversy, when the Association of Ukrainians in South Australia expressed its opposition to the Palestinian-American, whose public statements have included repeated criticism of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Mr El-Kurd is a critic of Zionism and has described Israel as a “terrorist, genocidal nation” characterised by an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood and land”.

In a statement, MinterEllison said it was a strong supporter of the arts and had been a sponsor of the Adelaide Festival for five years, but was now reviewing that partnership.

“We have recently been made aware of the participation by Ms Abulhawa and Mr El-Kurd in the Adelaide Writers’ Festival and, in particular, of certain public statements made by Ms Abulhawa and Mr El-Kurd,” it said.

“We do not agree with those views. We have strongly expressed our reservations to the festival.

“We sought the festival’s assurances that no racist or anti-Semitic commentary should be tolerated as part of Mr El-Kurd’s or Ms Abulhawa’s or any other festival session.”

The company said it had made the decision, ahead of the start of the festival on March 3, “to remove our presence and involvement with this year’s Writers Festival program”.

“In addition, as these speakers are associated with the festival, we will be removing our support from the broader festival program (where feasible). We are in the process of reviewing the future partnership.”

The law firm will still pay for its sponsorship, although its logos will no longer appear publicly, except on material already printed.

Festival defends Writers’ Week decisions

In response, the festival’s chief executive Kath Mainland expressed disappointment at MinterEllison’s, move but defended Writers’ Week as a platform for peaceable debate.

“While we are disappointed by their decision to remove branding from Adelaide Writers’ Week and Adelaide Festival events, we also respect their choice to do so,” Ms Mainland said in a statement.

“Adelaide Festival places a focus on providing an opportunity for civil dialogue and the contest of ideas.

“We fervently believe in the importance of enabling and facilitating the freedom to express ideas that might be challenging or confronting, whilst always remaining respectful.”

Writers’ Week director Louise Adler said the principle of free speech was more important than sponsorships.

“We can only hope that our sponsors ride the ups and downs with us, but sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t,” she told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“And I guess Minters feel they have a brand to protect, but we certainly have a brand to protect, too, which is around the principle of inviting writers because of what they write not because of their Twitter feeds and because we believe their work as writers is important and interesting for the thousands that join us in the gardens.”

Ms Adler, who is Jewish, said criticism of the state of Israel was not the same as anti-Semitism.

“The conflation of the two is what’s at stake here,” she said.

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