[Boycott - Cultural]
London protest asks PEN to respect cultural boycott and support imprisoned Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour
29 April 2016
On 25th April 2016 activists from Inminds human rights group protested outside English PEN, the writers association, urging them to respect the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel and to distance themselves from their sister organisation PEN American which has partnered with the Israeli Embassy for a literary festival.
The activists also asked PEN to support Palestinian writers and journalists who are being targeted by Israel, in particular Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour who is currently under house arrest following 3 months imprisonment for writing a Poem.
The protest follows a writers lead campaign in the US calling on PEN to reject Israeli government sponsorship. Pulitzer recipients Junot Díaz, Richard Ford and Alice Walker, and National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich, and Dr. Cornel West and Angela Davis are among signatories of the letter sent to PEN last month.
Inminds chair Abbas Ali said "PEN has ignored the pleas of 140 prominent writers to respect the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel, and has shamefully taken money from an apartheid regime and in return for that money they have white washed Israel's crimes and listed Israel as a 'champion' of World Voices Festival which launches in New York this evening.
We are outraged that an organisation that claims to 'uphold writers freedoms' is deaf to the silencing of Palestinian writers by Israel. Today 20 Palestinian journalists are languishing in Israeli prisons for their words and over 150 bloggers have recently been arrested. Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour has been locked up in a rat infested dungeon for 3 months because Israel coudn't stomach her poem 'Resist, my people, resist them'. Just two days ago the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate leader Omar Nazzal was abducted by Israeli occupation forces whilst on his way to an international meeting of the European Federation of Journalists taking place in Sarajevo today, on 25th April, the same day PEN's World Voices Festival starts where Israel is honoured as a 'Champion'! Is this really what PEN has been reduced to - championing the oppressor over the oppressed?"
VIDEO - PEN Don't Partner With Apartheid
This evening in New York, PEN American launches its World Voices Festival. PEN American has shamefully partnered with the Israeli Embassy and taken apartheid money and in return for that money it has listed Israel as a "champion" of World Voices Festival.
PEN American is part of PEN International "the worldwide writers' association which promotes the freedom to write and the freedom to read". PEN International was born here in London. We are here today outside the Free Word Centre in Farringdon in London, the headquarters of English PEN , the founding centre of PEN International. We want to respectfully ask English PEN to distance itself from its sister organisation PEN American, by taking a moral stand and support the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel.
PEN American has ignored the pleas of over a hundred writers including Pulitzer winners Junot Díaz, Richard Ford, and Alice Walker, and award-winning author Louise Erdrich, who have all called on the PEN American Center “to reject support from the Embassy of Israel” for PEN’s annual World Voices Festival.
We would like to read a few of the reasons given by these literary figures:
Gillian Slovo, Former President of English PEN 2010-2013:
“I watched how the cultural boycott on South Africa successfully put pressure on ordinary white South Africans to think about what their government was doing in their name. This request for solidarity from Palestinians is more sophisticated than the South African boycott ever was: instead of censoring individual artists it asks for a refusal of money from the Israeli state. Let PEN America invite as many Israeli writers as it wants to - just make sure that the people who pay their fare and their living expenses are not part of a state that systematically breaks international laws.”
Deborah Eisenberg, PEN Member, 2015 PEN/Malamud Award, 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award
“Two questions: Let’s say that A is an institution dedicated to protecting the free expression of writers around the world from governments hostile to minority populations and dissenting voices, and let’s say that B is a government that is under scrutiny for the increasingly violent and even extrajudicial repression of minority populations and dissenting voices.
1) What might B gain from conspicuously contributing sponsorship to A, and what might A lose by accepting such endorsement?
2) How long did it take to answer 1)?”
Francisco Goldman, Featured 2016 PEN World Voices Participant
“I just don't believe PEN, perhaps the world's most visible and influential organization that stands for and protects free expression everywhere, should accept money from any state that violently represses human rights, as Israel obviously does. Of course Israel is far from the only state that does this. If there were a similar letter circulating on Mexico's support for World Voices, I would certainly sign that too. I wish there were such a letter.”
Laila Lalami, PEN Member, 2016 World Voices Festival Participant, 2016 PEN Award Judge
"This is not a boycott of Israeli writers, who can travel and attend the World Voices festival whenever they wish. This is a call on PEN to refuse funding from a government that grants Israeli writers a freedom of movement it denies to Palestinian writers."
Susan Abulhawa, PEN Member
“No matter what language PEN uses to justify taking money from Israel, their actions amount to a willingness to allow a powerful colonial government to coopt a public U.S. cultural forum in furtherance of an explicit state propaganda campaign. It remains my hope that PEN might still reject funding from Israel’s state propaganda budget. Surely there are other means to fund the travel of individual Israeli writers.”
Kamila Shamsie, Former Vice-President of English PEN
“I understand why a call to boycott individual writers would be troubling to PEN members. This is not what we're asking for, and it's not what the wider BDS movement which springs from Palestinian civil society asks for. We're asking instead for PEN to refuse sponsorship from the Israeli government - to do otherwise is to become part of the 'Brand Israel' strategy which uses cultural events as a PR tool. Surely that isn't what PEN America and its membership want for their World Voices Festival?”
Fady Joudah, 2010 PEN Translation Award Winner, Past PEN Award Judge
“It would behoove PEN, in keeping with its mission, not only to refuse and return money from a government engaged in occupation and suppression of freedom of expression (of the people it occupies), but also to denounce and make public the many instances in which Israel blocks writers, especially of its own citizens, mostly Arab, from publication and book distribution, as well as free travel. If PEN is vociferous and fearless in standing up for the rights of imprisoned and blocked writers in the Arab world, for example, as in the recent cases in Gulf states, where worldwide efforts took place in support of such authors, it is then appalling that PEN shirks responsibility from standing up for the rights of Palestinian writers under Israeli occupation and as second class citizens inside Israel. Does PEN pretend not to have an idea of the restrictions on travel and book availability for Palestinians, restrictions imposed first and foremost by Israeli government policies? And top of it all, PEN goes on to accept money from such a government? What collusion, what cooptation and whitewashing of PEN's purposes is this, and what shameful silence and concealment? This speaks of the disintegration of PEN's mission. And for PEN to deflect resistance to its behavior with the falsehood that we, writers, aim to boycott individuals is abhorrent. I demand that PEN come clean and public against this so-called donation, and also to speak more consistently on behalf of the plight of Palestinian writers within Israeli borders and under Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.”
Dr. Ahmad Qatamash, Palestinian author, and subject of PEN International alert when detained without trial by Israeli government
“I was imprisoned by Israel for eight and a half years without trial under ‘administrative detention,’ as have been thousands of Palestinian detainees, a situation comparable to Franz Kafka’s novel ‘The Trial.’ Accepting any form of sponsorship from Israel is like PEN America Center endorsing such Israeli policies and supporting the theft of Palestinian land and water, which has left Palestinians with access to only 12% of their ancestral home.”
Israel systematically represses Palestinian artists and cultural workers and silences the voices supportive of Palestinian rights.
Last November Israel caged Palestinian journalist Muhammed Al-Qiq indefinitely, without charge, and without trial, and with no way to defend himself under Israeli's system of administrative detention which is illegal under the 4th Geneva convention. To protest Muhammed Al-Qiq went on hunger strike. Last month, after 94 days without food, and on the verge of death, Israel finally relented and ended his administrative detention order and promised to release him on 21st May 2016. At the time International PEN demanded Israel end the use of administrative detention against journalists. But Israel has instead intensified its attacks on journalist and writers. Today there are around 20 journalists caged by Israel including some on administrative detention and 150 bloggers have been arrested because the Israeli occupation doesn't like their facebook posts. One example is 25 yrs old journalist Samah Dweik who abducted from her home two weeks ago, on 10 Apr 2016, because the occupation didn't like her facebook post.
Another example is of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour.
Dareen Tatour was arrested last October and has been caged for 3 months at Israel's infamous rat infested HaSharon prison. Her crime was to write a poem - "Resist, my people, resist them”. Currently she is under draconian house arrest in an apartment in Tel Aviv with banning orders preventing her from connecting to the internet and communicating with certain people. She has guards and an electronic tagging device attached to her ankle. She is not permitted to return to her home in Reineh.
Dareen's poem in classical Arabic starts with the verse "Resist , my people, resist them in Jerusalem, in Jerusalem I transcended my wounds and I whispered my worries to God, and I carried the soul on my palm in respect of Arabian Palestine.." and goes on to draw attention to the violent attacks on her people by the occupation, including the arson attack that killed the 18-month-old baby Ali Dawabsha and his parents in Duma, a village in the occupied West Bank, last year; the killing of 18-year-old Hadil Hashlamoun by Israeli soldiers in Hebron, also last year; and the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair in Jerusalem during 2014.
Dareen Tatour says “It is ironic, but not surprising, that I was sent to jail for protesting the killing of my people whereas actual Israeli killers roam free”.
Israel's crimes against writers and journalists go unabated. Just two days ago the leader of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Omar Nazzal was arrested whilst on his way to an international meeting of the European Federation of Journalists taking place in Sarajevo today, 25th April 2016.
This is not the time to reward Israel. This is not the time to honour Israel as a "Champion" of anything other than abuses of human rights.
We urge PEN American to refuse apartheid money and apartheid patronage. And we ask English PEN to distance itself from its sister organisation in America by making a moral stand on the right side of history by declaring open support for the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel. Already former President of English PEN Gillian Slovo, and former Vice-President Kamila Shamsie and former Board Members and trustees have all signed the letter asking PEN to "honor this boycott call and refuse sponsorship by the Israeli embassy or any complicit Israeli institution". We ask English PEN to champion the rights of Palestinian writers like Dareen Tatour, Omar Nazzal and Samah Dweik, and all Palestinians suffering under colonial Israeli occupation.
More Information On PEN Campaign
ADALAH NY: Tell PEN American Center not to partner with the Israeli government
Free expression group PEN America gets sponsored by apartheid Israel
by Sarah Irving
Literature fans who respect Palestinian rights will have been disturbed to find Israel listed among sponsors of this week’s PEN World Voices festival in New York.
The “embassy of Israel” was named on the festival’s sponsors page as a “patron” and also appears on an individual events page as a fully-fledged “sponsor.”
Some of these events, and the festival more broadly, feature a number of prominent supporters of Palestine, including writer and academic Teju Cole, novelist and Armenian heritage campaigner Nancy Kricorian and Palestinian poet and academic Nathalie Handal. This suggests that the festival had not been entirely transparent with participants about its financial relationships.
Cole and Kricorian’s events, the web pages of which had no direct links to the Israeli embassy, had already taken place before The Electronic Intifada was alerted to the sponsorship issue. Handal, who had originally been scheduled to appear at the sponsored event, disappeared from the listing yesterday.
The festival’s organizers did not respond to a request for comment.
Charlie Hebdo award
American PEN, a division of the international literature and freedom of expression organization, has recently attracted controversy over a gala dinner it held on Tuesday.
Six “table hosts” for the dinner — renowned authors Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi — all withdrew from their roles in protest at plans to award French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with a special award.
A further 200 of PEN American Center’s 4,000 members were also said to have signed an open letter stating that the award overstepped the line between “staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.” Those who signed include internationally famous authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Junot Diaz.
Peter Carey, in an email interview with The New York Times, condemned both the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier this year but also the agenda which the magazine itself espoused, saying; ”A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about? All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”
Director’s pro-Israel influence
The Israeli sponsorship of the World Voices festival suggests views at PEN’s America Center which extend beyond a Western liberal reification of “freedom of speech” over basic values of responsibility and anti-racism.
The association with Israel seems to stem from the appointment of Suzanne Nossel as the executive director of PEN American Center last year. Nossel had previously attracted controversy during her brief stint as head of Amnesty International’s US office. Before that, as her whitewashed biography on the PEN America website puts it, she worked for the US State Department and the US mission to the United Nations and served as a board member of Human Rights Watch.
As a classic example of the “revolving door,” Nossel has brought the influence of the US government to the nongovernmental organizations in which she works — the same groups which have often provided the selective arguments about human rights with which Washington justifies its wars.
She has also been a staunch supporter of Israel. In 2005, for example, she wrote in Dissent magazine that “Longstanding US perceptions of the UN membership as anti-Western, unprincipled, motivated by petty biases, and dominated by a herd mentality stem largely from and are given continuing basis by the body’s history of anti-Israel conduct … Israel became something like the proverbial friendless kid in a schoolyard, always attacked and in need of constant help.”
While working for the State Department in 2011 she reasserted her views, saying: ”At the top of our list is our defense of Israel, and Israel’s right to fair treatment at the [UN] Human Rights Council. This is the most challenging issue we face.”
And in 2012, she rejected the Goldstone report, the findings of a UN investigation into Israel’s slaughter in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, saying that the paper put “the most negative possible spin that you could put on Israeli behavior … It draws a series of inferences about Israel’s motives and behavior that are simply not supported by the facts … We do take exception to that.”
Nossel’s stint with Amnesty International’s US office was the subject of considerable criticism from human rights and justice campaigners, including at The Electronic Intifada, where David Cronin commented that “she had been a deputy assistant secretary of state under Hillary Clinton. Under Nossel’s leadership, Amnesty whitewashed the invasion of Afghanistan by hosting a conference praising NATO’s ‘progress’ in that country. The guest of ‘honor’ at that event was Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state who declared that killing as many as 500,000 children in Iraq by depriving them of essential medicines was a price worth paying.”
She is said to have “resigned unceremoniously” after protests from Amnesty staff and donors about the organization’s support for the US invasion of Afghanistan during her leadership.
It is therefore unsurprising that her switch to PEN American Center has also attracted severe condemnation. One PEN member, Chris Hedges, a veteran journalist, canceled his appearance at a PEN event and resigned from the organization with a letter which accused Nossel of failing to oppose Israeli abuses as well as torture and extra-judicial killing by the US and its allies. Going on to call Nossel “utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization,” Hedges said:
This appointment makes a mockery of PEN as a human rights organization and belittles the values PEN purports to defend. I spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the Middle East bureau chief of The New York Times. The suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation and the plight of those caught up in our imperial wars in countries such as Iraq are not abstractions to me… I hereby resign from PEN. I will wait until the organization returns to its original mandate to defend those who are persecuted, including those within the United States, before returning to the organization.
Other critics have pointed out that, just as Amnesty’s failure to support US whistleblower Chelsea Manning while under Nossell’s control, so has PEN America on her watch.
The PEN Charter affirms the necessity for freedom of expression and thought. But members also “pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds.”
Under Nossel, it appears, PEN America sees Israel as a state to be defended despite its repression of Palestinian expression and rights, while those who confront the US government’s warmongering are met with silence and a cold shoulder.
PEN’s double standards over Israel boycott
by Charlotte Silver
Amidst a campaign aimed at convincing PEN American Center to reject Israeli government funding for its annual World Voices Festival that began this week, the literary group and its director Suzanne Nossel have displayed glaring double standards in their approach to cultural boycotts.
When challenged about why the group has accepted funding from Israel, Nossel reportedly told Palestine solidarity campaigners earlier this month that there was a strong reaction to the word “boycott” among her PEN colleagues.
But PEN American Center has publicly advocated that the tactic be used in certain situations.
Just last week the organization tweeted out a letter, signed by PEN American Center, urging singer Enrique Iglesias to cancel his upcoming concert in Azerbaijan.
The Spanish star was urged to protest against human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, including the jailing of journalists.
Similarly, PEN American Center signed a letter to several country leaders in 2015 asking them to make their participation in the inaugural event of the European Games that were scheduled to take place in Azerbaijan contingent on the release of eight journalists and five human rights activists.
While the letter stated it was not seeking a “public boycott” of the event, it did actually recommend a boycott.
It asked the UK and Ukrainian governments to refrain from sending a “high-level delegation” to the games if the prisoners in question were not released.
Adviser to Hillary Clinton
Nossel has not been averse to calling for boycotts in a personal capacity, either.
In 2006, for example, she warned that Iran was “about as frightening a rogue state as can be imagined.” To support that assertion, she noted that Iran was “hostile to the United States.”
Writing on Democracy Arsenal, a website that she founded, Nossel suggested a “sports boycott that would exclude soccer-crazed Iran from the World Cup, akin to what was done for apartheid South Africa and [Slobodan] Milosevic’s Serbia.”
Along with running PEN America, Nossel is what certain media describe as a “volunteer adviser” on human rights to Hillary Clinton’s presidential election campaign.
Nossel was also a senior figure in the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state.
After leaving the State Department, she headed Amnesty International’s US branch.
Under Nossel’s leadership, Amnesty ran an ad campaign portraying the US-led invasion of Afghanistan as beneficial to that country’s women.
More than 200 prominent literary figures and 16,500 other individuals have signed a letter criticizing PEN American Center for accepting Israeli sponsorship.
The Asian/Pacific/America Institute at New York University recently canceled its event at the World Voices Festival, scheduled for Friday.
The panel, titled “The Language of War,” was to have featured the poets Solmaz Sharif, Jennifer Tamayo, and Jennifer Hayashida.
All declared their support for boycotting the festival because it had accepted funding from the Israeli government.
The pressure on PEN American Center appears to have been effective. Jennifer Clement, president of its parent organization PEN International, recently promised to address criticisms raised by Adalah-NY, a New York-based group advocating a boycott of Israel.
“PEN International shares your concern,” Clement stated. “At present we are formalizing our recommended guidelines for the world’s PEN centers regarding funding from countries with a poor record on freedom of expression.”
PEN American Center has also broken its silence over recent human rights abuses by Israel.
On Thursday, PEN American Center issued a statement asking the Israeli government to explain why it has jailed the Palestinian journalist Omar Nazzal.
He has been placed in administrative detention – detention without charge or trial – after Israel arrested him in the past week at the Israeli-controlled crossing between Jordan and the occupied West Bank.
Nazzal was traveling to a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists in Bosnia.
The PEN statement also expressed concern about the detention and prosecution of Palestinian writer Dareen Tatour, who was arrested and charged with “incitement to violence” for a poem that she wrote calling for resistance to Israeli brutality.
Ru Freeman, a novelist who has been campaigning for PEN to cease accepting Israeli sponsorship, told The Electronic Intifada that this week’s statement was made “under enormous pressure” from Palestine solidarity campaigners and the wider public.
“But two questions remain,” Freeman added. “First, will PEN now speak also for the many other journalists and writers – and we can provide them with a list – whom Israel has detained? And second, how can a statement about a government’s denial of the freedom of speech for writers and journalists be reconciled with taking money from that same government for a festival that is supposed to celebrate free speech?”
At least 19 Palestinian journalists are currently being held in Israeli custody and more than 40 Palestinian journalists have been detained since October 2015.
Israel has, for instance, held 25-year-old Palestinian journalist Samah Dweik since 10 April, charging her with “media incitement” based on what she has posted on Facebook.
This week, the US-funded think tank Freedom House changed its ranking of Israel from “free” to “partly free.”
The reason given for the demotion was the increasing influence of Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper, Israel Hayom, which features a growing portion of government-paid content not clearly identified as such to readers.
Freedom House notably excludes from its criteria for its rankings Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip – despite the fact that Israel exercises the authority to arrest, imprison and kill Palestinian journalists.
In contrast, Reporters Without Borders does consider Israel’s treatment of those journalists, and consistently ranks Israel in the bottom tier of its world press freedom index.
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