27 February 2008, Tel Aviv
with Aharon Shabtaï:
"Israel, “guest of honour”
in Paris and Turin,
does not deserve to be invited"
by Silvia Cattori*
When the announcement that Israel would attend the "Fiera del libro" of Turin, (*) came out, an immediate wave of protest arose in Italy; and many personalities supported the boycott call, made by the Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian Writers’ Associations. In France, strangely enough, the same invitation, to the "Salon du livre" of Paris, did not make much noise. Alone, the Israeli poet Aharon Shabtaï has refused to participate in these events, contrary to the 39 Israeli writers who accepted to be part of the Israeli delegation to these two exhibitions. Aharon Shabtaï explains here why these events –which he qualifies as "promotion of propaganda" for Israel-, must be boycotted, as well as any cultural event where this apartheid State is celebrated.
Silvia Cattori: In December 2007, learning that your name was among 40 Israeli writers invited at the "Salon du livre" of Paris where Israel is the "guest of honour", you declared that it is not possible to participate in an event where Israel, which commits daily crimes against civilians, is invited. Apparently, 39 Israeli writers do not see any problem in participating!?
Aharon Shabtaï : This event will be opened by the French president Sarkozy and the Israeli president Shimon Perès. Given this situation, going to the "Salon du livre" of Paris as a writer, with the Israeli delegation, means that you are going dressed with the colour of the Israeli flag. Every day, Israel commits war crimes and imposes collective punishments on the Palestinians. There is no reason to celebrate anything.
Israel violates all international laws. Not only the Geneva Convention. The Hague International Court of justice condemned the illegal wall that Israel has built on confiscated Palestinian land. The book event, or any other kind of exhibition in which the Israeli State is invited, is not a way to promote peace in the Middle East, and not a way to bring justice to the Palestinians, but only propaganda to give Israel an image of being a liberal and democratic society. A State which maintains an occupation and commits daily crimes against civilians does not deserve to be invited to whichever cultural week. We cannot accept to be part of that. Israel is not a democratic State but an apartheid State. We cannot support that State at all.
Silvia Cattori: So, by inviting the Israeli State to celebrate its 60 years of existence, France and the organizers of the Salon are making a big mistake?
Aharon Shabtaï: It is not a mistake! It is a policy. I think that, for Nicolas Sarkozy, it is a way to take part in the Israeli occupation. There is collaboration between the European governments and Israel. The Israeli invitation is part of it. Without the help of the United States, and now the help of France, Israel could not continue such a policy against the Palestinians. This help gives Israel the green light to go on attacking and killing the Palestinians, especially in Gaza. It is very sad to see that France, Germany, European countries -which have a history of persecution against the Jews- are taking part in the persecution of the Palestinian and Muslim peoples by Israel.
Silvia Cattori: What do you answer to those who say that we must separate culture from politics?!
Aharon Shabtaï: Why to separate? In the tradition of Europe, going back to the Greeks, writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Thomas Mann, always fought against oppression and for liberty. Liberal intellectuals and writers have always involved themselves in political criticism.
Silvia Cattori: So you condemn those who will participate in the Salon, like Amos Oz, Avraham B. Yehoshua, Aharon Appelfeld, David Grossman, Zeruya Shalev, Etgar Keret, Orly Castel-Bloom, and others?
Aharon Shabtaï: Yes of course! I condemn them because, in that way, they promote the Israeli propaganda and collaborate with the Israeli occupiers.
Silvia Cattori: Did you call them to join the boycott ?
Aharon Shabtaï: Writers like Amos Oz and David Grossmann, and others, do not want to boycott Israel! I do not expect anything from them. They are the ambassadors of Israel. They usually collaborate with the Israeli government; they are part of the Israeli propaganda. So it is very natural for them to go to any place where Israel is officially invited. They are helping the Israeli government.
Silvia Cattori: Do you consider these Israeli writers as collaborators?
Aharon Shabtaï: Yes, because these invitations are generally organised by a government who support the military occupation of the Palestinian people. I think that any intellectual, any writer has to refuse to participate in any meeting in which the anniversary of Israel is celebrated. Instead of that, they have to help the Palestinians to get their rights, their land and their water back.
What we have to do, is to fight the Israel’s discriminatory acts and persecution; to have the same attitude the writers had during the struggle against the South African apartheid regime; the attitude of the radical and liberal writers like Brecht, Aragon, Breton when, during the Nazi period, they organized a Congress and tried to fight against the discrimination and persecution of the Jews.
Silvia Cattori: Is it true that the Israeli government uses the Israelis working in the field of art and literature as part of its public relations network, for its information warfare, as a way to show an attractive face of Israel?
Aharon Shabtaï: Yes, Israel’s regime uses them as public relations; like when, in the Soviet Union, the Soviet writers were mobilized by the regime. So, the Israeli writers are now going to Paris like collaborators of an ugly regime, and to be part of the regime.
In such a situation, when such crimes are committed every day by Israel against the Palestinians, anybody who does not cut any link with the Israeli government -this is a matter of fact- is collaborating and doing propaganda for Israel.
Silvia Cattori: In your view, all honest and human people should boycott not only Paris and Turin exhibitions, but all "Israel at 60" celebrations? So,the only way for Israeli writers would be to have the courage to lose some privileges, to respond to the Palestinians who desperately call for a boycott and to apply to Israel the same treatment that was applied to South Africa?
Aharon Shabtaï: Yes exactly. I think that we must work for our common future with the Palestinians, and not to support the militarism of Israel. Continuing occupation and the war is a very big danger for the future of the Jews, the Israelis and our children. We can help to stop this occupation.
Silvia Cattori: One Israeli Arab writer, Sayed Kashua, has apparently accepted to go to the "Salon du livre" in Paris and Turin with the Israeli delegation!
Aharon Shabtaï: He is on the official list by Israel, like the 39 other writers. He is a good person. But, as an Israeli Arab, he is not in a comfortable position. It must be dangerous for him to boycott. He must be afraid. He might lose his work. The life of the Israeli Arabs, living in Israel, is so bad; it is very difficult for them to survive. As all the Israeli Arabs, he is considered by Israel as a second class citizen. This is not my situation. I belong to the class that dominates, I am Jew, I can boycott without any danger for myself, but an Arab has to be very careful.
Silvia Cattori: Outside of Israel also, the intellectuals, who call for the boycott against Israel, are not in an easy position!
Aharon Shabtaï: You, the Europeans, you boycott the occupied people in Palestine because they voted democratically for the Hamas government; and now you are boycotting the people of Gaza and collaborating with Israel against the Palestinian people and their government!
Gaza is a ghetto, a concentration camp! At the same time you, Europeans, are celebrating Israel without any consideration of the plight of nearly four million of Palestinians who are living in a situation similar to that of the Blacks under the apartheid regime of white South Africa.
It is difficult to find the right words to express such an absurdity. The plight of the Palestinians is even much worse than the plight of the Blacks in South Africa.
The Palestinians are starved, are bombed every day, and are killed on a large scale. The situation in Gaza, under Israeli aggressive military operations, is horrific.
When the Sarkozy government invites Israel, it knows that this will encourage Israel to go on with the occupation and its crimes against the Palestinians.
I do not think that the Europeans, with their values, can invite a State like Israel and take part in its 60 years celebrations. Paris and Turin events are purely another occasion for Israel to make propaganda and gain more support for its military occupation.
When Kosovo fought against Serbia, Europe supported Kosovo, and made war against Serbia. Serbia was the right owner of Kosovo but, in spite of that, the world fought against Serbia and bombed it. Here, it is just the opposite. Israel is sitting on an occupied territory. And you, Europeans, you are going on to help the Israeli occupiers and not the Palestinians who are suffering under the occupation? Why this double standard?
An Interview with Aharon Shabtaï
by Silvia Cattori
Israel, “guest of honour” in Paris and Turin, does not deserve to be invited
Silvia Cattori: It was so far impossible, even within the solidarity movement, to treat Israel with the same severity as the apartheid regime of South Africa. When the Swiss intellectual, Tariq Ramadan , simply declared that if we are coherent and respect the dignity of the human being, we must boycott this event, he was vilified and accused of stirring up "anti-Semitism". In the case of Israel, the boycott is often considered by people of Jewish religion, and by representatives of the left parties, as an "anti-Semite" act!
Aharon Shabtaï: The Jews do not want to see that nearly four million of Palestinians are living in concentration camps, in prison camps, like in Gaza.
People in Europe do not know exactly what the reality here is. It is very stupid to use the word "anti-Semite" and to call people, who call for the boycott of Israel, as being "anti-Semitic".
I was born here, I have my children here, and I am also asking for the boycott of Israel, I have the same idea. Recently, Benny Ziffer, the editor of the literary pages of Haaretz newspaper, called for the boycott of the "Salon" too.
These claims of "anti-Semitism" are propaganda claims. Until recently, Israel succeeded in Europeans being in favour of the occupation. But, after the war against Lebanon, and Gaza, European people cannot continue to support Israel. The call for the boycott has nothing to do with any racism.
Silvia Cattori: When, in British universities, it is possible to refuse to invite Israeli writers or scientists, in Continental Europe, the institutional left never gives any answer to the call of the Palestinians for a boycott.
Aharon Shabtaï: I do not know what left means when their representatives do not cut any relation with Israel. I think that many people are afraid of being accused of being "anti-Semitic". Now, the history of the Holocaust is completely falsified. There is a Holocaust industry, privatised by the Israeli propaganda; it is something disgusting.
Silvia Cattori: Do you receive support for your position?
Aharon Shabtaï: Yes I receive many letters from Europe. I know that people are concerned; they have nothing against the Jews but they are critic of Israel’s brutal policy. This is something that is not mentioned by the media.
People have supported Israel for so many years! But now, from their reactions, we can see that the sentiments of grassroots people are mostly against the domination and militarism of Israel. But, in the media you cannot find it. As with the Iraq war, the media are on the side of the State which makes war. The media are pro-Israel.
(*) Israel is guest of honour to the « Fiera internazionale del Libro » of Turin (8 - 12 May 2008)
and guest of « Salon du Livre » of Paris (14 - 18 March 2008)
1] Aharon Shabtai is the foremost Hebrew translator of Greek drama and the author of numerous collections of poetry. Born in 1939 in Tel Aviv, he attended the Tel Nordau School and the Educational Institute at Kibbutz Merhaviya. After his military service, he studied Greek and Philosophy at the Hebrew University, the Sorbonne, and Cambridge, and from 1972 to 1985 he taught Theater Studies in Jerusalem. He was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Translation in 1993. The father of six children, he lives in Tel Aviv.