Turin Book Fair Honors Israeli Writers, Faces Usual Knee Jerk Reactions


As the NY Times reported last month, Israel is being honored at the Turin Book Fair this year and predictably there is some controversy:

The selection of Israel as guest of honor at this spring’s International Book Fair in Turin has set off a furious debate among Italian, Israeli and Arab authors and intellectuals, including calls to boycott the event, Italy’s largest annual gathering of the publishing world. Those opposed to the decision say that offering such an honor at a fair opening in May, when Israel will celebrate its 60th anniversary as a nation, is to ignore its policies toward Palestinians.

“A prestigious event like the book fair can’t pretend it doesn’t know what’s happening in that part of the Middle East,” said Vincenzo Chieppa, a local leader of the Italian Communist Party, who was one of the first to raise objections to the selection of Israel. Subsequent calls to boycott the fair — coming both from extreme-left-wing Italian political activists and prominent Italian and Arab intellectuals and authors — have prompted a wave of newspaper articles, some raising concerns about censorship and others extolling the need to place art above politics.

Performing the usual category mistake, the call to boycott is another misguided knee-jerk campaign to slander a group of people who are quite critical of many of the Israeli governments policies. As novelist A.B. Yehoshua commented in an op-ed column in La Stampa: “The aim of culture and literature is not to build barriers among people, but to open up to others.” The organizers of the fair are not backing down: “A country has to be able to come to the fair without being counterbalanced by another country,” Mr. Picchioni said. “What’s next? If we honor Russia, do we also have to invite Chechnya? Or what about China? Do we bring in Tibet?”

There is an interesting discussion over at Reset between Dissent co-editor Mitchell Cohen and Andy Arato. In an interview, Cohen comments on the Turin Book Fair:

I think it is the right decision in both cases. Israel has had a remarkable history, often tumultuous, sometimes unhappy, but remarkable nonetheless. Its ties to Europe are profound and important. Israel was created in response to centuries of persecution and therefore deserves solidarity. That is not the same thing as supporting all Israeli policies, just as having sympathy for the plight of Palestinians ought is not to be confused with apologetics for every act done by a Palestinian. It is not just Europe and Israel that gain when the Jewish state is honored at these book fairs. The Middle East peace process gains too. Israel has a vibrant literary culture and it is worth noting that many of the Israeli authors who are invited are outspoken doves and supporters of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. Unfortunately, there is a campaign these days from within parts of the western intellectual world, especially within parts of the left, to de-legitimize the Jewish state. This campaign is wrong-headed, often slanderous, and betrays the best ideals of the left and democracy. Continue reading