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National Security & Defense

The PEN Is Mightier than the Boycott

Among the sponsors of the PEN American Center’s annual World Voices Festival, set for New York City at the end of the month, is the Israeli embassy. As you might expect, that has a number of literary types in a fit. Led by Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, more than 100 writers have signed onto a letter calling for PEN to dump the embassy:

Since 2005, Palestinian civil society has called on people of conscience around the world to engage in a peaceful campaign of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning (BDS) Israel in order to force it to comply with international law and respect the rights of Palestinians now living under Israeli military occupation, as unequal citizens within Israel, or as refugees, denied their right to return to their homeland. . . .

We appeal to PEN American Center to honor this boycott call and refuse sponsorship by the Israeli embassy or any complicit Israeli institution for the 2016 World Voices Festival and for future PEN American Center activities. Sustaining a partnership with the Israeli government amounts to a tacit endorsement of its systematic violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, including the right to freedom of expression for writers and journalists.

Signatories include novelists Alice Walker, Junot Diaz, and Richard Ford.

But PEN is refusing to budge. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

According to a PEN American Center spokesperson, the General Consulate of Israel provided a small contribution to underwrite the costs of airfare, hotel, per diem, interpreters and related expenses for individual Israeli writers selected for participation by the festival.

In an email to members cited by Adalah-NY, PEN American Center said it was maintaining the Israeli funding because of a policy against “cultural boycotts of any kind” and the need to “promote dialogue.”

The BDS movement has little interest in dialogue, as Israeli and pro-Israeli speakers at, to name just a few, UC-Davis, the University of Chicago, the University of Minnesota Law School, the University of Texas (Austin), the University of South Florida, and, most recently, San Francisco State University, have discovered.

So kudos to PEN for pushing back.

P.S. A predictable bit of irony: Among the signatories of this letter condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinian writers is Angela Davis, whose courageous defense of free expression includes . . . endorsing the imprisonment of Soviet political dissidents.​

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