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May-09-2010 23:16printcomments

Open Letter to Margaret Atwood: Reject Tel Aviv University Prize

Some say Palestine is the ultimate test of honesty.

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood

(DUBLIN) - I realise that I am too late to contribute to the messages calling upon you not to accept the Dan David Prize. There is an ironic reason for this: I have admired your fiction, poetry and ethical stance for so long that it never entered my head that you could possibly perpetrate such a betrayal. Although I have long been convinced that the issue of Palestine is the ultimate lie-detector, with residual naivety I believed that your commitment to truth would have enabled you to see through the tissue of lies that the Zionists and their defenders have woven in order to obfuscate a simple issue of oppression and dispossession. But perhaps even more disheartening is the tissue of disingenuous evasions that you yourself have woven in order to disguise the ethical irresponsibility of having accepted this award. You describe the idea of a cultural boycott as "a dangerous precendent" and as "a form of censorship", citing an organisation called Les artistes pour la paix which, on 22nd December 2009, expressed its support for the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions called for by Palestinian civil society, but made an exception for artists because the supposed "contribution of artists and intellectuals is essential to the dissemination of the message of Peace..." I am myself a professional composer of classical music, and down the years have come to despair of the lazy and self-serving rationalisations artists dream up in order to exempt themselves from ordinary people's struggle for justice. In this context it should be stressed that being "for peace" in Israel/Palestine is inadequate if one is not simultaneously "for justice". Given that the Palestinian call for BDS does not make an exemption for artists and that there is a major Palestinian civil society organisation entirely dedicated to promoting the cultural boycott (, western artists adopting the contrary position must be aware that they are rejecting a call emanating from those whose oppression is maintained with the help of our own western governments - the Harper administration in Canada being an egregious example. Such artists must be prepared to face the suspicion that their own career interests have blinded them into sublimating the iniquity of their role when they thus deny the victim's will. This denial adds an unpalatable note of self-pity to your attempted appropriation for yourself of the role of victim ("no matter what I do, some people are going to disagree...") as you accept this lucrative Prize. The shibboleth of "censorship" plays a sorry role in this charade. Censorship is indeed one of the central tactics of Zionism, both within the Israeli state and in the USA and many European countries where open support for the Palestinian cause and just criticism of Israel is all but excluded from the mainstream media and can constitute professional suicide in many walks of life. Do you believe that the cultural boycott which played a small but significant role in helping to end Apartheid in South Africa constituted "censorship" and therefore should not have been imposed? It is censorship of the most virulent type when the Israeli authorities prevent (as often happens) a Palestinian writer from travelling abroad to read his/her work, or when Israeli police intervene to shut down a Palestinian literary festival in East Jerusalem ( You might respond that "two wrongs don't make a right", but the truth is that culture is not a sacred realm floating far above the tribulations of the real world, and that artists in Israel and elsewhere are all too often complicit in the crimes of their governments - either by their silence, or by their willingness to allow their work and their presence to be appropriated by oppressive states. The Israeli foreign ministry has explicitly advocated employing culture as propaganda (, a tactic that applies both to Israeli artists travelling abroad and to visiting artists, whose presence will inevitably be exploited as evidence of Israel's "normality" and "acceptability" - although in reality Israel is a racist, apartheid state that is both abnormal and unacceptable. In asking writers and other artists not to accept invitations to Israel or awards from the Israeli establishment, PACBI and other defenders of Palestinian rights are asking such artists voluntarily to reject their own exploitation by the Israeli state. To lend oneself to such exploitation despite such a heartfelt plea, and to do so in the name of rejecting "censorship", is in my view to be guilty of self-seeking moral blindness. Yours in sadness -
Raymond Deane
Dublin, Ireland,
9 May 2010

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ex-syrian Jew May 11, 2010 10:53 am (Pacific time)

I wonder if the writer has spared a though for the 1 million Jews from Arab (such as myself) countries ethnically cleansed from their countries since 1948?

Natalie May 10, 2010 2:25 pm (Pacific time)

gp: men are very naive creatures. They really believe that 'forgive' means 'forget and never mention again'.

Joe R. / Ottawa, Canada May 10, 2010 10:44 am (Pacific time)

As Tim King's said "Palestine is the ultimate test of honesty" Palestinians being Arabs and majority Muslims seem to be the world's most safe people to pick on and have no care in the world for any potential consequences. To make things even worse for victimized Palestinians is the fact that their conflict with Jews (or more accurately victimization by Jews) who insist on forcefully holding the title of perpetual victims no matter what atrocities they commit in Palestine. This is not to defame Jews, but to make a point that Jewish insistence on their ultra victimhood status even 65 years after the holocaust and almost 62 of continued victimization of Palestinians is beyond comprehension. Mrs Atwood has lost her credibility for selling her soul to the devil and receiving payment to keep her mouth shut and white wash this genocidal racist apartheid entity. The Israeli system of apartheid has to be dismantled there is no other way around that. Palestinians have waited for so long to be treated like the rest of humanity. BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Israel NOW

Martin Dufresne May 10, 2010 9:27 am (Pacific time)

And to think that Atwood has contributed such insight into the dangers of a theocratic, misogynist state wit The Handmaid's Tale. Can she not recognize this very reality outside the realm of fiction and art and agree to make herself accountable to the oppressed?

gp May 10, 2010 8:58 am (Pacific time)

First, Atwood has worn her hair white for several years.
Secondly, she is way to smart to fall for adulation at the expense of her ethics nor does she need the prize money. I would suggest that we wait to see what she says after she visits Palestine during her visit. She most surely will have a powerful message and perhaps she can sway some young Israeli minds. I am in support of the boycott, I would like to see her participate, but I will wait til afterwards as she suggested to condemn her...or not. Chomsky was also vilified over his resistance to the Boycot and has since changed his mind. I hesitate to castigate our heroes of the left without more evidence. Salem News seemed to give more sympathectic treatment of the Holocaust denier last week than to Chomsky and Atwood.

Tim King: I thought this was water under the bridge, guess it wasn't?  Our writer in Tehran wrote a piece about a man who served seven years for what is known as 'Holocaust Denial' in Germany.  There was not a word about Nazi politics or racism; the story was about a very long sentence for speaking words, it was about a lack of freedom of speech in the western world.  I have had to address this with, I believe, a total of two people.  So, Atwood supposedly champions the rights of the downtrodden, and then turns around and takes a million dollars from the oppressors.  Well, as a good friend stated in an email thread, "Palestine is the ultimate test of honesty".  This is what I believe, but I guess a million dollars is the price it took, and the truth comes out in the wash. 

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