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SXSW festival bars US Army as sponsor after ‘careful consideration,’ anti-Israel pressure

"It's up to private companies, private organizations to make their own decisions," a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival at the Paramount Theatre on March 16, 2024 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images.
South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival at the Paramount Theatre on March 16, 2024 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images.

South by Southwest (SXSW), the more than 35-year-old annual conference and music festival held in Austin, Texas, announced recently that it is revising its sponsorship model “after careful consideration.”

“The U.S. Army, and companies who engage in weapons manufacturing, will not be sponsors of SXSW 2025,” the event stated.

More than 80 artists and speakers protested the festival in March, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Some did so “in solidarity with Palestinians” and “to protest the festival’s inclusion of defense industry contractors and a U.S. Army sponsorship,” the paper reported.

The singer Eliza McLamb wrote that she “will never put my name on or perform my labor for an event in service of the U.S. war machine, and especially not now as they continue to fuel the ongoing violence against Palestinians. Blood money has no place in music.”

Kneecap, an Irish group, said that it wasn’t an “iota of hardship” to take on the “significant financial impact” of its boycott “when compared with the unimaginable suffering being inflicted every minute of every day on the people of Gaza,” Variety reported.

After the festival made its announcement last week, Kneecap wrote “U.S. Army is out of SXSW” and directed an expletive at Israel. It also included an image of a Palestinian flag.

On Friday, a reporter asked Sabrina Singh, the deputy Pentagon press secretary, about the festival’s decision to ban “the U.S. military from sponsoring next year’s festival due to the military support of Israel.”

“Does the Pentagon disagree or agree with that decision?” the reporter asked. “Any comment?”

“I don’t really have a comment to offer. It’s up to private companies, private organizations to make their own decisions,” Singh said. “We are certainly, you know, working to get aid into Gaza to the Palestinian people that need it most. That’s our priority when it comes to humanitarian aid, and we’re focused on that.”

The Pentagon spokeswoman didn’t say whether the U.S. Department of Defense had a comment on whether it is appropriate to boycott those who support the Jewish state.

Sabrina Singh
Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon, on June 28, 2024. Credit: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders/U.S. Department of Defense.

‘Novel ways to debase themselves’

“Bands pull out of SXSW over U.S. Army sponsorship. Bye. Don’t come back,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in mid-March.

“Austin remains the headquarters for the Army Futures Command. San Antonio is Military City U.S.A.,” the Republican governor added. “We are proud of the U.S. military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here.”

Dustin Burrows, a Republican and member of the Texas state House, wrote last week that in less than 24 hours, the SXSW festival had “cowardly dropped its partnership with the U.S. Army” and the Travis County attorney dropped charges against “pro-Palestine agitators” at the University of Texas at Austin.

“While such actions by the woke mob in Austin are never surprising, such a blatant embrace of hatred, antisemitism and those who openly support terrorists is an embarrassment,” the state representative said.

Writing in The Ankler, Richard Rushfield noted that “it’s hard to overstate how unusual it is for a festival in this challenged climate to turn away a sponsor.”

“Unusual perhaps to the point of … totally unprecedented for a film festival, at least as far as I can find in contemporary history,” Rushfield wrote. “The entire job of festival chiefs these days is more or less begging for sponsors to underwrite a tiny smidgen of the festival and coming up with new and novel ways to debase themselves at their feet.”

James Stavridis, vice chair of global affairs at the Carlyle Group and a retired four-star U.S. Navy admiral, wrote that the festival’s decision was “short-sighted and foolish.”

“You can’t be a serious tech festival without including defense,” he wrote. “The U.S. Department of Defense invented the Internet, much of space tech, nuclear power, 1,000 other tech innovations.”

An anti-Israel social-media account, which promotes boycotting the Jewish state to its nearly 75,000 followers, wrote that South by Southwest dropped its partnerships with the U.S. military “after well over 100 artists boycotted SXSW over its complicity in Israel’s genocide and underlying settler-colonial apartheid regime.”

The next SXSW festival is scheduled for March 7-15, 2025.

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