Israeli writers feted at Paris book fair despite Muslim protest
Israeli writers are the stars of the Paris book fair opening under tight security on Friday after Muslim countries and authors called for a boycott.
PARIS, March 13, 2008 - Israeli writers are the stars of the Paris
book fair opening under tight security on Friday after Muslim countries and
authors called for a boycott of France's biggest literary event.
Amos Oz, David Grossman and Avraham B. Yehoshua are among the 39 authors
invited to the four-day book fest, marking the first time that an
international book fair puts the spotlight on Israeli writers.
The decision touched off Muslim protests with governments and writers
calling for a boycott, saying Israel should not be rewarded when it faces
international outrage over its actions in the Palestinian territories.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is to formally inaugurate the five-day
fair on Thursday evening, has described the boycott as "the stupidest thing I
have ever heard in my life."
"I am against the boycott of books. When you burn books or engage in such
actions, you are only punishing yourself," he said during his state visit to
France this week.
The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Oranization (ISESCO) 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.
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, said Christine Demazieres, the director of the SNE trade group
representing French editors, which organises the fair.
"This really shows a lack of tolerance," said Demazieres. "To go so far as
a boycott is serious. It's a denial of freedom of expression."
Organisers stress that Israeli writers are being honoured and not the state
of Israel, which is celebrating 60 years since its creation, 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.
"We are not taking any risks," said Demazieres.
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.
"It is not worthy of France, the land of the revolution and human rights,
to welcome at its book fair a racist, occupying country," said Al-Mutawakel
Taha of the Palestinian Writers' Union.
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 the 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.
In all some 2,000 authors are taking part, with some 1,300 stands