Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Pandering to the New Prejudices
By TARIQ ALI
"When I agreed to participate in the Turin Book Fair, which I have done before, I had no idea that the 'guest of honour' was Israel and its 60th birthday. But this is also the 60th anniversary of what the Palestinian call the 'nakba'the disaster that befell them that year, when they were expelled from their villages, some killed, women raped by the settlers. These facts are no longer disputed. So why did the Turin Book Fair not invite Palestinians in equal numbers? 30 Israeli writers and 30 Palestinian writers (and I promise you they exist and are very fine poets and novelists) might have been seen as a positive and peaceful gesture and a positive debate might have taken place. A literary version of Daniel Barenboim's Diwan Orchestra, half-Israeli, half-Palestinian. Such a move would have brought people together, but no. The cultural commissars know best. I have argued vigorously with some of the Israeli writers visiting the fair on other occasions and would have happily done the same again if conditions had been different. What they decided to do is an ugly provocation.
It would appear that culture is increasingly bound to the political priorities of the US/EU nexus. The West is blind to Palestinian suffering. The Israeli war on Lebanon, the daily reports from the Gaza ghetto do not move official Europe. In France, we know, it is virtually impossible to criticise Israel. In Germany, too, for special reasons. It would be sad if Italy went the same way. How many times do we have to stress that criticism of Israel's colonial policies is not anti-semitic. To accept this is to become willing victims of the blackmail the Israeli establishment uses to silence its critics. There are some courageous Israeli critics like Aharon Shabtai, Amira Hass, Yitzhak Laor and others who will not permit their voices to be muffled in this fashion. Shabtai refused to attend this fair. How could I do otherwise......"