PwC the latest partner to withdraw support for Adelaide Festival

02 March 2023 3 min. read
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This year’s Adelaide Writers’ Festival has become the latest battleground in the endless culture wars, with a number of corporate sponsors withdrawing their support due to controversial comments.

Professional services firm PwC has followed in the footsteps of fellow consultancy Capgemini in distancing itself from the Adelaide Festival due to the inflammatory comments made by two Palestinian authors scheduled to appear on the Writers’ Week bill.

The duo, Susan Abulhawa and Mohammed El-Kurd, have both evoked Nazism in comments critical of the Israeli state, and in Abulhawa’s case, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

PwC the latest partner to withdraw support for Adelaide Festival

Critics have accused the pair of antisemitism, while others have called for the resignation of Adelaide Writers’ Week festival director Louise Adler – the daughter of Jewish immigrants whose grandfather was killed at Auschwitz – for remaining defiantly steadfast as to their inclusion as corporate partners have backed away amid fervent lobbying.

MinterEllison, Australia’s largest law firm and a major Adelaide Festival sponsor, was the first to withdraw its support.

PwC, which provides pro bono auditing support for the Adelaide Festival Foundation, has now followed suit; like MinterEllison, dissociating itself from the entire Adelaide Festival through the requested removal of its logo from its festival website, while citing the foundation’s financial support of Adelaide Writers’ Week in an all-staff memo explaining the firm’s actions. The memo also reiterated that PwC doesn’t play any role as to the Festival’s programs.

“We condemn in the strongest terms any antisemitic comments and any suggestion of support for Russia’s war against Ukraine,” the memo read, although PwC has yet to make an official public statement on its decision. “We stand with the Jewish and Ukrainian communities who have been understandably hurt by this issue. In this respect we have asked the chair of the Adelaide Foundation that any association of PwC with this aspect of the festival be removed.”

Jeremy Leibler, a decade-long partner at commercial law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler and the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia was quick to voice his support of the move, stating; “I welcome PwC’s principled decision to stand with the Jewish community in the fight against antisemitism. Hate speech and incitement to violence should have no place at a writers’ festival or anywhere else in Australia in 2023. I hope that other sponsors follow this decision.”

Culture wars

The Adelaide Writers’ Week stoush is a continuation of the ever-growing encroachment of political and culture wars on cultural arts territory, in this instance a somewhat flipping of the script when Israeli embassy co-production funding led to a widespread boycott of last year’s Sydney Festival, again with significant pressure applied to performers and sponsors.

Festival chair David Kirk later apologised, whereas Adler says she has no intention of being a “party to cancel culture.”

“Our business is to operate an open space, not a safe space, in which ideas that may be confronting, disturbing, provocative, are debated with civility, that’s the agenda,” Adler told the ABC, adding to The Age that she was disturbed by antagonism directed towards individual writers and that the authors in question were selected for their published works. “I don’t seek out writers via their Twitter feeds. I do not think the social media space is a place for nuanced or reasoned analysis and discussion.”

According to a report in The Advertiser, which is itself reportedly reviewing all aspects of its relationship with the Adelaide Festival, tech consultancy Capgemini had previously flagged that it would withdraw future festival funding but maintain its current arrangements for this year’s event – although the firm doesn’t currently appear among the festival website’s list of corporate partners. Contrary to reports however, PwC’s logo can still be found within a few clicks.