Book Fair War of Words Rages On
Elif Kayi, Z Word's European press reviewer, on the continuing furore in the French press over the Paris and Turin book fairs.
Furious debates continue to rage around the Paris book fair, which has just begun and goes until 19 March, and the Turin book fair, scheduled for May, following the decision of both fairs to highlight Israel's literary achievements in a year marking the 60th anniversary of the State's creation.
A number of Arab and Muslim countries, as well as several individual authors and independent publishers, decided to boycott the book fairs because of Israel's participation. The boycott offensive began in Italy after the Islamist intellectual Tariq Ramadan expressed his support for it. In an article published in Le Monde, Ramadan accused the book fair organizers of a "silent conspiracy" towards "Israel's apartheid policies."
Ramadan's article unleashed similar comments. Interviewed in Le Figaro, Egyptian writer Alaa el-Aswani declared: "To invite a country guilty of crimes against humanity is a very serious crime." In the same report, the Palestinian writer Mohamed Hafez Yacoub remarked that the invitation showed that France was sending a "message of indifference" to the Palestinian people.
Not all Muslim intellectuals have echoed Ramadan's position. The Moroccan writer Tahar ben Jelloun wrote, "I am currently reading books by Amos Oz and Amir Gutfreund...If I understand the logic of those who support a boycott campaign of the Turin book fair, I will have to throw these two books away and maybe burn them. Why? Because they have been written by Israelis." Gamal Ghitany, an Egyptian writer, called the boycott "politically puerile."
However, the Israeli Arab writer Sayed Kashua opined that in an ideal world, "there would be more boycotts of the Zionist entity." In Liberation, Kashua was taken to task by Bernard-Henri Levy, in an exchange which saw Kashua declaring his "love" for the Hebrew language. "You would not speak Hebrew, and you would not speak it so fluently and with such grace and talent, if the State of Israel did not exist," Levy responded.
Other European intellectuals also joined the debate. For Marek Halter, the echoes of antisemitism were unmistakeable. "Asked on the day after Kristallnacht about the consequences of the burning of Jewish books, Sigmund Freud answered: ‘After the books, it is the Jews who will be burnt,'" Halter wrote in Le Monde. The columnist Dominique Quinio articulated an argument reminiscent of the case against the academic boycott of Israel: "It is particularly unjust that opposition to Israel takes books and those who write them as its target. Any literature is universal; it builds links. Translated, it goes beyond borders."