Ian McEwan 311.
(photo credit: Annalena McAfee)
LONDON – The English novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan has refused to heed a call from a pro-Palestinian group that has questioned his decision to accept this year’s Jerusalem Prize, which they call “a cruel joke and a propaganda tool for the Israeli state.”
A group of writers and academics – members of British Writers in Support of Palestine – many of whom are active in the delegitimization campaign against Israel, signed a letter in Monday’s Guardian calling on the acclaimed writer to boycott the prize and join the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
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“We, the undersigned, deeply regret the decision of Ian McEwan to accept this corrupt and cynical honor,” the group said.
The signatories maintained that that the Jerusalem Book Fair, which will be held at the Jerusalem International Convention Center starting on February 20, was complicit in “the illegal colonization” of the city’s east.
“McEwan believes that the Jerusalem Book Fair, which awards the prize, represents a blameless civil society. In fact, the fair is organized by the Jerusalem Municipality, a key institution of the Israeli state and a major instrument in the illegal colonization of east Jerusalem. The fair also works in concert with the national government and its dignitaries.
“In its philosophy of ‘business as usual’ in an apartheid state, the book fair is as boycottable as Carmel Agrexco or Caterpillar Inc. We urge McEwan to reject the prize, and join the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement... aimed at pressuring Israel to comply with international law,” the group said.
McEwan will travel to Jerusalem to accept the prize on February 20.
In a letter in Wednesday’s Guardian
, McEwan – the author of The Comfort of Strangers, The Innocent and Atonement
– told the group to respect his decision as he would accept their decision to stay away.
“Theirs is not the only voice.
Courtesy obliges them to respect my decision to go to Jerusalem, as I would theirs to stay away,” he said.
The author said he was for finding out for himself, “and for dialogue, engagement, and looking for ways in which literature, especially fiction, with its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides.”
He said that if the signatories of the letter were against this project, “then clearly we have nothing more to say to each other.”
Highlighting the list of dignitaries that have previously received
Israel’s most coveted literary honor, McEwan added: “As for the
Jerusalem Prize itself, its list of previous recipients is eloquent
enough. Bertrand Russell, Milan Kundera, Susan Sontag, Arthur Miller,
Simone de Beauvoir.
“I hope BWISP will have the humility to accept that these writers had at
least as much concern for freedom and human dignity as they do
themselves,” he said.
In 2008, The Times
placed McEwan on its list of the 50 greatest British
writers since 1945. Other awards he has received include the Booker
prize, the Whitbread novel award, the Somerset Maugham prize, the WH
Smith literary award, the Prix Femina Étranger, the German Shakespeare
prize and a host of others.