PEN World Voices: Should We Boycott Israeli Writers?
On April 5, 2016, Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America, sent a letter to over 4,000 members asking for comments regarding a call to boycott “two Israeli writers who are taking part in this year’s PEN World Voices Festival.”
Solomon noted PEN’s position, “put forth in 2007…is opposed to cultural boycotts.” World Voices Festival Director Jakab Orsos and Chairman Colm Toibin reiterated this by responding that “PEN and PWVF must always fall on the side of maximum protections for free expressions.” Who would suggest otherwise?
Ethan and Omar: Two PEN members of the Adalah – NY: New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel. Not surprisingly, many signatories supported religious chauvinism when they protested last year’s award given by PEN to Charlie Hebdo.
E & O make two mistakes. The first concerns their view of Israel-Palestine, but this should be open to debate; the second, though, is their egregious “Campaign.” Boycotts, when just, have merit; when misguided they become soft censorship. Outside of, say, inciting violence (The murder of Ahmadi Asad Shah in the U.K. relates to how Khatme Nabuwwat instructs followers to kill Ahmadiyya), all speech must be allowed. But fascists by nature need censorship to promote their ideas and suppress opposition, for their ideas cannot disseminate otherwise. (They claim they would support Israeli writers, but not under Israeli sponsorship, which is equivocation.)
That Ethan and Omar wish to boycott the only state in the Middle East where Jews can live free from prejudice, women have equal rights, and homosexuals live openly, suggests duplicity. How can they explain that Israel had 200,000 Arab citizens in 1948 and the present day population is 1.8 million while the Arab states’ Jewish populations have, without exception, dwindled? In Saudi Arabia and Yemen there are no remaining Jews. At the same time these two “fascist lites” ignore Palestinian government responsibility for the miserable situation of the Palestinian people: corruption, refusal to renounce violence, and call for the destruction of Israel. When you ascribe moral inferiority to Israel, without applying your standard to yourself or other nations, you are not only anti-Semitic but a hypocrite.
The error of E & O’s position on Israel is reflected by their subversively fascist view of speech. To E & O, I quote the biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s (who wrote under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre) interpretation of Voltaire’s ideal: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Thus we will listen to your views and attempt to counter with superior arguments. You should allow others the same opportunity.