By Mick Napier
17 October 2012

"Sefton is in reality a complete fraud in claiming to support artistic freedom; he has not a single word to say about Israel's violent suppressions of Palestinian artistic initiatives. While he condemns those who protest in support of Palestinian human rights, a proposal as to how we should try to end what he says are Israel's "crimes against humanity" will never escape his lips. Never."

Sefton: Israel commits crimes against humanity but don't boycott Adelaide Festival Director David Sefton travelled round the world in August to the Edinburgh International Festival and spewed bile in The Leither against protesters who interrupted his enjoyment of Brand Israel’s asset, Batsheva Dance Company, during a performance at the Playhouse Theatre on Leith Walk.

Sefton conceals the fact that he shared the auditorium that Thursday evening with the Israeli Ambassador and the Minister of Culture, who went backstage to meet the dancers and thanked them for their efforts to promote the murderous state of Israel through culture. (Sefton and the other cultural bureaucrats who attended that night did not take the opportunity to protest, nor did they make any effort to even discuss, Minister Livnat's efforts to legally compel Israeli artists to perform in the illegal settlements.)

Sefton claims the protest outside the auditorium was reasonable and "makes contextual sense" while the inside protests were "censorship" and "are a much bigger problem here."  He is being less than frank; in February 2009, Sefton attacked a group outside LA's Royce Hall who mounted a silent protest against Brand Israel asset Batsheva being hosted by Sefton, saying that their silent protest was an "attempt to silence the artistic voice of this outstanding dance company."

For a chameleon like Sefton, what "makes contextual sense" in Edinburgh is an act of censorship in California. Protestors were clear throughout that the target, Batsheva, as with the protests at the Scotland Israel football game at Tynecastle football stadium in June, was a group of cultural ambassadors of the Israeli State, a state carrying out what Sefton concedes to be "crimes against humanity".

Sefton reveals the frivolous milieu he inhabits where one can use words carelessly because they don't have any weight or consequence.  He intones, "Israel is bad. Very bad. They have committed crimes against humanity and international law without justification or permission. No one with an ounce of political sense will argue against that statement." But many with large amounts of political sense will and do dispute that statement: David Cameron, Barak Obama, Ban Ki Moon, Tony Blair, most UK newspaper editors, editorial writers and most world leaders. (By the way Mr Sefton, where does one ask prior "permission" before committing "crimes against humanity"?)

Following such foolishness, Sefton then attributes idiotic ideas to boycott activists, for example that, "They're from Israel, right? So they must be Anti-Palestinian?" Since the one million Palestinian citizens of Israel, through their representative institutions, have endorsed the call for boycott of the self-styled Jewish state, we could hardly be accused by a balanced person of tarring all Israelis with the same brush.

Sefton's view of Israel-ness, however, air-brushes out the Palestinian citizens of Israel and he really means only Jewish Israelis, a blind spot common among Western politicians that is both pro-Zionist and racist. In any case, we refuse all ideas of collective guilt in what we agree with Sefton are Israel's "crimes against humanity" and hold only State institutions culpable and boycottable (by non-violent means). That includes all, repeat all, institutions linked to the state committing those "crimes against humanity".

It seems doubtful whether Sefton is aware that "crimes against humanity" – and we stress again our agreement that Israel is guilty of such crimes - are recognised in law as the highest level and gravest type of international crimes.  All governments are bound to treat them as if they were committed on their own soil and make arrests, as has happened with Karadjic currently at the Hague.  One doubts whether Sefton on his return to Adelaide will remind the Australian Government of this responsability and communicate to them his views on Israel's culpability in the area of crimes against humanity.  This is a cultural bureaucrat whose pension weighs heavier than Israel's crimes against humanity, Australian Government endorsement of those crimes, or the moral imperative to take a stand against anything.

The man never really rises above abuse and the shop-worn allegation that boycott of institutions linked to the Israeli State is racist, a position that was explicitly and authoritatively repudiated in an Edinburgh courtroom in 2009.

Nonetheless, Sefton felt effortless superiority towards the "utterly stupid" human rights protestors at the Batsheva performances because, he informs readers, they think that the Batheva dancers must be Government supporters since they accept arts grants. Not remotely true, but if you only have one arrow in your quiver, a blunt one, fire it. "Sigh. Here we go again," he tells the readers of The Leither when he despairs at ideas that he alone has considered.

It would be a marathon chase to keep up with all the examples of Sefton's possibly genuine inability to grasp the simplest of ideas. Mr Sefton is probably being deliberately disingenuous, for he is being less than candid on this matter with readers of The Leither.

Our critic has had previous dealings with Batsheva when he was Executive Director of UCLA Live in California and invited Batsheva to perform there. In LA he spoke in words almost identical to those used by Brand Israel promoters in the Israeli Government: "I think Batsheva presents a truly enlightened face of cultural Israel. It gives us a sense of what else is going on there. We always hear only bad news out of Israel. But culturally, there's a lot of dynamic and exciting work going on."

Between helpings of vulgar abuse, Sefton finished his airings of the usual Zionist tropes – opposition to the racist state is racist, you need to protest against all the atrocities of the world if you wants to protest against Israel, etc – with the claim that non-violent interruption of an Israeli State sponsored protest ("safe targets for simplistic lefties") is an "act of aggressive vandalism" by "Nazis". We hear the sound of the plot being lost.

Sefton is in reality a complete fraud in claiming to support artistic freedom; he has not a single word to say about Israel's violent suppressions of Palestinian artistic initiatives. While he condemns those who protest in support of Palestinian human rights, a proposal as to how we should try to end what he says are Israel's "crimes against humanity" will never escape his lips. Never.

Prime Minister David Cameron told a Zionist audience in London on Tuesday that he is prepared to attack yet another country, this time Iran on behalf of Israel. The serial aggressions of British governments go back far beyond even the 60-odd years that Israel has been disappearing Palestine and the Palestinians with, UK support. Cultural bureaucrats like Sefton, swanning around the world utterly indifferent to the colossal violence their own governments inflict upon wholly innocent populations whose resources they covet, have nothing to say in support of the Palestinian call for boycott.

We are aware that we are violating the human rights of concert-goers, in exactly the way many violated the rights of rugby and cricket fans to pay their money and watch an apartheid-era South African sporting team play. In the scale of things, though, only someone lost to human decency can argue that this undeniable human right trumps the moral and legal imperative to resist "crimes against humanity" carried out over 60 years with the connivance of our governments and the craven silence of wretches like David Sefton.

World-wide support for the Palestinian appeal for boycott against apartheid Israel will continue to grow and Scots will continue to play their part.

Mick Napier
17 October 2012

If you find our articles, research and contributions useful...
Please consider becoming a member or making a donation to Scottish PSC. We are a wholly volunteer organisation and we need your help to continue our work - focused on BDS and delivering effective solidarity with Palestinians.

Receive news and updates - Join our mailing list!