Ometz: Authors being unfairly chosen for book translations

Watchdog group accuses institute director of mismanagement, favoritism; institute is mostly funded by government ministries.

Anti-corruption watchdog group Ometz has approached the State Comptroller’s Office, requesting that it investigate claims of mismanagement in the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature (ITHL).
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Ometz director Aryeh Avneri said his organization had previously brought the claims to the attention of the foreign minister and the culture and sport minister, who fund and oversee the institution, but since neither had responded, Ometz had been forced to take the issue to the state comptroller.
According to Avneri, Ometz has recently received complaints from authors, translators and others in the publishing world, accusing the institute’s director, Nili Cohen, of mismanagement.
The charges include favoritism in author selection, unequal employment of translators, uneven access to publishers, and excessive spending while on business trips.
Avneri said he had approached the ministers with the charges in July, but neither Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman nor Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat had responded.
The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature was established by the government in 1962 to acquaint foreign readers with the best of modern Hebrew literature. In 1986, the institute was registered as an independent nonprofit organization, receiving a majority of its funding from the two ministries.
While thousands of new books are published in Israel every year, the ITHL can only translate and market a fraction of them. To date, the institute has supervised and supported the translation of more than 5,000 books in nearly 70 languages, ranging from Danish and German to Catalan and Japanese, with the majority of the books – roughly 40 percent – being translated into English.
The institute also operates as a literary promoter, publishing literary anthologies and professional catalogues , attending international book fairs, organizing literary conferences and coordinating international literary exchanges.
For authors, having their books translated into foreign languages spells a major achievement. Besides the royalties they can receive from foreign publishers, having their books read abroad can lead to additional income from requests for book signings and invitations to lecture.
In its letter to the ministers, Ometz stated that “Cohen allegedly operates out of emotional motivations and not professionally and as demanded by her post.” It added that “there are authors who receive preferential treatment for personal reasons, while others are rejected out of spite.”
The letter said that the same was true for translators employed by the ITHL, as well as for foreign publishers who complained that they were unable to publish desired authors’ works as their colleagues had, because of Cohen’s unfair treatment.
Avneri did not disclose who had approached him with the complaints.
“A no-less-severe problem is the institution director’s spendthrift behavior while on business trips abroad, which is expressed by staying at luxury hotels and flamboyant spending, which does not suite the institution she represents or its budget,” read the letter.
The institute responded to Ometz’s letter by denying all the claims and denouncing the accusations as “baseless slander.”
“The institute’s director is in no way involved in choosing the authors whom the ITHL deals with or in the selection of translators.
These processes are all under the responsibility of literary lectors and the professional staff… This is nothing but the complaints of authors whose books are not represented by the institute or those whose books are represented, but who feel like they did not become as famous abroad as they would have liked to and are expressing their frustration.”
As to the accusations of excessive spending, the ITHL wrote that “the institution operates sparingly and according to proper administration practices and that any claims on the matter are unsupported.”
The spokeswoman for the Culture and Sport Ministry said that Ometz’s claims were currently under investigation by the public committee for arts and culture, which had appointed a committee to examine the ITHL’s operations.
However, the spokeswoman said its findings had yet to be published because the ITHL had failed to respond.
“Upon conclusion of the investigation process and if the findings warrant it, the necessary steps will be taken,” she said.
Lieberman’s media adviser confirmed that the complaint had been received at the ministry in August.
He said that it had been referred to the relevant department, but that no formal conclusions had yet been reached on the issue.