What is at stake when the arts are used for public relations purposes?
The Australian branch of an organisation that openly supports and advocates for Israel, and whose internal policies lead to the exclusion of dissenting voices, has repackaged itself as an ‘apolitical,’ pluralistic Jewish community group. With the help of the local press.
On Monday 23 March, the Australian Jewish News (AJN) reported that a staff member of a theatre in Sydney, The Red Rattler, had rejected a request from Hillel Sydney to rent the premises, with an email stating ‘Our policy does not support colonialism/Zionism. Therefore we do not host groups that support the colonization and occupation of Palestine.’ In response, New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff wrote to the theatre manager on behalf of Hillel Sydney, complaining that Hillel had been discriminated against ‘based on conflicts taking place far from Australia,’ claiming that,
Hillel is an apolitical body which provides educational, cultural and social activities for Jewish students and young adults [and the decision was] at best ill-informed and at worst racist and discriminatory.
The theatre board subsequently sent a letter of apology to AJN, saying it ‘condemns racism of any kind.’ The Red Rattler is now a target of a growing online and media campaign to paint the small theatre as the headquarters of (some combination of) radical, leftist anarchist neo-Nazis.
Whether one agrees with the approach taken by the theatre staff member, it is arguable that the ‘global Hillel family’ – of which Hillel Sydney is a part – is boycottable for the partnership role it plays in Israeli government hasbara efforts. Alhadeff’s plea of political neutrality is insincere: it is Hillel which implicates itself in ‘conflicts taking place far’ away – and on the side of the occupier.