Israeli president opens Paris book fair, denounces Muslim boycott
Shimon Peres inaugurated the Paris book fair with a condemnation of the Muslim countries and authors boycotting the event.PARIS, March 14, 2008 - Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday
inaugurated the Paris book fair with a condemnation of the Muslim countries
and authors boycotting the event which showcases Israeli writers.
"Those who want to burn books, boycott wisdom, prevent thought, block
liberty, they condemn themselves to be blind, to lose freedom," he said in
Hebrew as he opened France's biggest annual literary event.
Several Arab and Muslim countries and writers groups are boycotting the
week-long fair because Israeli writers have been invited to mark the 60th
anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state.
Amos Oz, David Grossman and Avraham B. Yehoshua are among the 39 Israeli authors invited to the four-day book fest.
Muslim critics say Israel should not be rewarded in this manner while it
faces international outrage over its actions in the Palestinian territories.
Peres, who is on a state visit to France this week, earlier said the
boycott was "the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my life."
The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has called on
its 50 member states to stay away, arguing Israel's "crimes against humanity"
in the Palestinian territories make it "unworthy" of such an honour.
Israeli attacks in Hamas-controlled Gaza have left more than 130
Palestinians dead since late February while Israel has faced international
criticism for its plans to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Israel says its Gaza attacks are to quell almost daily rocket attacks fired
at southern Israel. Eight teenagers were also killed by a Palestinian gunman
earlier this month at a Jewish religious school in an attack claimed by the
Responding to the boycott call, editors from Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and
Tunisia who had reserved four stands at the book fair have decided to pull out.
Organisers stress that Israeli writers are being honoured and not the state
of Israel, and that many of the authors have campaigned tirelessly for peace
in the Middle East.
But the protest has prompted them to draw up plans for beefed-up security
at the Paris exhibition centre, the venue for the annual fair which draws some
200,000 literature buffs.
Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have come out in favour of the boycott,
while the Palestinian Writers' Union has said the invitation unjustly bolsters
Israel's international standing.
Writing in Le Monde newspaper, Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan said "choosing Israel as guest of honour at a time when Palestinians are dying in Gaza is tactless and a blunder."
But he voiced support for Palestinian and Muslim authors who have decided
to take part in the Paris book fair and provide "a presence as critics" at the
Amos Oz told AFP earlier this week that "those who are calling for a
boycott are not opposed to Israel's policies but to its existence.
"They say that Israel should not be represented at the Paris book fair
because they simply think that Israel should not be."
The uproar comes ahead of Italy's Turin book fair in May, which is also set
to showcase Israeli writers and has drawn similar Muslim calls for a boycott.
Last year, Indian writers were celebrated at the Paris book fair and next
year Mexico is the guest of honour.