Read on for the article
Music for Refugees’ Philip Feinstein features Ben Adler, a Sydney-based Australian Jewish violinist and son of an Egyptian refugee, and Nawfel Alfaris, an Iraqi-born Australian Mandaean who arrived here as a refugee in 2005.
Ben has performed with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and currently leads klezmer fusion band CHUTNEY and the Ben Adler Quartet.
Nawfel works in the pharmaceutical industry. It organizes cultural events that introduce ethnic diversity into mainstream Australian society.
They are two very intelligent and intelligent musicians who look to music and the arts to promote peaceful dialogue. Here are their thoughts. . .
The theater is crowded with 300 Arabs: Mandaeans, Muslims, Christians. On the program: an Amerindian singer, an Iraqi choir, an African ensemble. A Jewish band plays an Israeli tune. Everyone applauds, talks and laughs heartily around the tabbouleh after the show.
science fiction? In fact, a music festival last June in Casula, in Sydney’s south-west, which was attended by the two authors of this article. (Nawfel organized the festival and Ben played with his klezmer – Jewish folk music band.) This marked the beginning of our friendship.
We met again last week and, between bites of the best hummus in Fairfield, we discussed the boycott of the Sydney Festival, a protest against his request and acceptance of sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy to fund a performance by the Sydney Dance Company. And we shared our great fear: that the Sydney Festival will end on Sunday and that this boycott, which tore it apart, will become the new norm that divides the artistic industry. We refuse to accept this.
We know that the moment of cross-cultural convergence we created at Casula was no accident. It was the most natural thing in the world. What is art, after all, if not our best attempt to explore and consolidate our mutual humanity? What does art really do if it doesn’t connect people: audience with artists, audience with audience, artists with artists? How can art not challenge and dismantle the preconceptions of our minds when it speaks the language of our hearts? When everyone in a room feels the beat as one, it’s pretty hard to find room for hate.
Simply, art unites. Dividing art is not art: it is propaganda, and has no place in any festival. Likewise, art created, performed, or funded by Israelis (or anyone else, for that matter) is not automatically propaganda. To say that is just racist. To artists and activists, let art be, so it can do what we have seen it do, time and time again: bring people together and slowly heal the wounds of the world.
So how can the Palestinians draw attention to the suffering of their people? Well, how can anyone in Australia draw attention to anything? With freedom of expression. That’s what those who now boycott the Sydney Festival did, in the beginning. They spoke to the festival’s board, which heard their concerns and pledged to review its funding procedures.
But that was not enough for activists, who then pressured the artists to step down and cut off hope of finding a mutually agreeable solution. Boycotts may be non-violent, but they are aggressive. They attack freedom of expression; they stifle dialogue; they demand “my way or no way”.
And why? The performance of Sydney Dance Company’s Decadence was extraordinary: sold-out standing ovations at every show.
If not for the boycotters’ efforts, only supersleuthiers querying the logos on the festival’s website could have uncovered the sponsorship of the Israeli Embassy – an embassy that would sponsor any Israeli artist, if asked, including the one of the 2 million Israeli Arabs who enjoy full equality. with their Jewish neighbors.
Recall, for example, that Israel sent the Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad together with the Jewish-Israeli singer Noa to Eurovision 2009.
So what did the boycott bring? Peace in the Middle East is not closer, the life of the Palestinians is not better. Meanwhile, in Sydney, our festival is disrupted and hatred has erupted as keyboard warriors abuse artists and each other.
Consider our track record. Nawfel fled Iraq to escape hatred, violence and persecution. Ben’s mother fled Egypt for the same reason. The dangerous “us and them” we left behind is the very mentality that this boycott has begun to stir up in Australia.
By refusing to engage with those on the other side, they boycott “the others” and dehumanize them. By lobbying – by intimidating – artists on the run, it sows fear and nullifies art. Far from ushering in a better, fairer and more peaceful world, it sows discord wherever it smolders.
Australia may not be perfect, but we’re one of the most cohesive and diverse societies in the world – because we talk to each other over coffee or beer. We don’t shout or cancel people who see things differently from us. Where do we do?
Can you imagine if we boycotted anything associated with a government whose actions we oppose? What if every international conflict raised its head and waved its placards along the sparkling waters of Sydney Harbour? What about our own government’s human rights record? Should we boycott?
As Mira and Noa sang at Eurovision, “there must be another way”. There is – we have done it before, in Casula, and we will do it again. May art be such that it brings together the various sons of our society.
Let us take advantage of the freedoms of this country to address issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through dialogue. Let’s do all this without tearing up our dear city and its festival.
Artists, public, activists: this is Australia. Join us. There is enough tabbouleh for everyone.
Ben Adler and Nawfel Alfaris