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Arabs divided over Book Fair boycott

Latest update : 2008-03-13

Critical of the choice of Israel as guest of honour, a number of Arab publishers and writers plan to boycott the 28th annual Paris Book Fair, held from March 14 to 19.

The call for Arabic authors and publishers to boycott the Paris Book Fair seems to be picking up steam before the event opens next week.


The boycott was launched by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) and taken up by the Union of Palestinian Writers. Lebanon’s minister of culture has indicated that Lebanon will abstain from participating this year "in order to take part in the protest against the decision of the organisers to nominate Israel as the guest of honour, on the occasion of the  60th anniversary of [Israel’s] creation.”


Some Arabic publishing houses and authors have joined the boycott. Contacted by FRANCE 24, Smail Ameziane, head of Kasbah Publishing in Algiers, explained his position: “We abstain from participating in the name of solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza.”


But others say they sympathize with the protest, but will not join the boycott. “Personally, I am against the boycott of the Book Fair," he told FRANCE 24. "However, it is necessary to take advantage of this moment to address the 60 years since the Palestinian ‘nakba’ (catastrophe).” He added, “By celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary, France adopts an extremely negative position with respect to Palestine and sends a message of indifference to its people.”


Regrets and Astonishment


The Israelis are disappointed. Nina Ben Ami, spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in France, told FRANCE 24 that she does not understand the position of the Arab editors. “It is regrettable that a military conflict can take on a cultural context. We need to have an open dialogue with each other so that things advance. The boycott is not the best way to achieve political goals. It is outdated.” Her colleague Anita Mazor, head of communications, feels the same: “It is really sad. But not everyone is boycotting. There will be Arab editors and writers standing next to their Israeli colleagues.”


The feelings of France's National Publishers' Association, organisers of the fair, oscillate between regret and astonishment. Christine de Mazières, a member of the association, says the Book Fair should not be taken hostage by political quarrels. She told FRANCE 24 by phone, “We do not want this event to be influenced negatively [by the boycott].” She asked: “Why are the Maghreb [North African] countries, which agreed to participate from the beginning knowing that Israel would be the guest of honour, abruptly changing their opinion?”


Did political pressure force them to change their tune? It's a question De Mazières declines to speculate on. She likes to think of the Book Fair as a celebration for the young and lovers of literature. “The absence of Arab countries is regrettable, but it will not dominate the Fair. Moreover, we expect a record turnout this year.” She added, “This Fair could have been wonderful occasion for Arab and Israeli authors to have a dialogue about the Middle East. Moreover, a majority of the writers are pro-peace and support the creation of a Palestinian State as soon as possible.”


Regretting the boycott, Christine Albanel, French minister of culture, nevertheless said that “France [agrees] to continue a policy of openness in regard to all types of literature, without exclusion or prohibition, in accordance with its tradition of open exchange.”

Date created : 2008-03-06