Paul Sakkal & Anthony Segaert.
The Australian Museum will reword a display at a new Ancient Egypt exhibition after an Australian Jewish group complained about the use of the placename “Palestine”.
The highly anticipated Ramses and the Gold of the Pharaohs includes a text panel that describes Ramses the Great’s involvement in the 1275BC Battle of Kadesh, which it states involved “fighting … in Libya and Palestine”.
Days before Christmas, the Australian Jewish Association (AJA) announced on social media it had written to the museum “about inaccurate use of the word ‘Palestine’ in an exhibit on Ancient Egypt”.
The Sydney institution issued a statement to this masthead saying it used “both ancient geographic locations such as the site of the Battle of Kadesh and modern geographical context referencing Ramses’ battles in what is known today as Libya and Palestine.”
“For clarity,” the statement said, the panel would be amended to refer to the area as “what is today known as Libya and Palestine”.
“The terms Libya and Palestine are not being removed from the text panels.”
The Battle of Kadesh occurred in modern-day Syria. The museum could not answer on the record when asked which of Ramses’ battles occurred in either the Gaza Strip or the occupied West Bank, which are mostly under the control of Palestinian authorities. It is unclear if the display used the term Palestine to refer to areas inside the state of Israel.
The museum’s decision is the latest domestic dispute over the history of the Israel-Palestine region, against the backdrop of a bloody war in Gaza that has sparked conflagrations in art, sport, politics and media.
Australian Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni said it was another case of “Palestine, Palestinians, our history, our cultural heritage and stories being invisibilised, minimised, rewritten, if not completely erased, by an Australian institution at the command of a Zionist lobby group”.
“The important thing to note here is that it is not the goal of the Zionist lobby to achieve historical accuracy, but rather to contribute to a broader project – which we’re seeing play out in Israel government violence in both Gaza and the West Bank – of eliminating any trace of the Palestinian people in their historic and ancient homeland”.
Mashni wrote a letter to the museum on Wednesday citing the research of Palestinian writer Nur Masalha, which he claimed demonstrated the term Palestine, or Filastin in Arabic, had been used since the Late Bronze Age and had been found in inscriptions dated to 3300 years ago, including in the temple of Ramses III.
The AJA wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the museum’s decision represented a “success” for the group, whose president is the controversial conservative figure David Adler. He declined to comment further when approached for this story.
Both Adler and Mashni have come under scrutiny following reporting on this masthead in recent months.
Leading groups such as the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council and Executive Council of Australian Jewry distanced themselves from Adler after he questioned Senator Lidia Thorpe’s Aboriginal heritage and repeatedly suggested journalist Stan Grant artificially darkened his skin.
Senior Jewish Australians have for years called out Adler’s comments and said the name of his association was misleading because it implied he spoke on behalf of a large portion of the Jewish community, which they say he does not.
Mashni was criticised by an extremism expert over comments he made about the destruction of the state of Israel and for claiming global power structures “all focus upon Zionism”. Foreign Minister Penny Wong told the Australian Jewish News in November that “comments and actions by Mr Mashni have been reprehensible”.
The travelling exhibition, which was transported from Egypt to Sydney via Paris, was a major coup for Australia’s oldest museum. The blockbuster sold 100,000 tickets before it opened and features a 1.85-metre high coffin of Ramses II, which has not been displayed outside of Egypt until this year.