Israel’s 60th Birthday

Iran to join boycott of Paris book fair over tribute to Israel’s 60th anniversary by Dave

TEHRAN: Iran will boycott this year’s Paris book fair in protest because Israel is being invited as guest of honor, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said Saturday. Iran “has participated in previous fairs but this year, because of France’s decision, Iran is boycotting the fair,” said Ali Alipour, an official at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Iran does not recognize Israel and has sharpened its rhetoric against it during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Islamic Republic is one of several Muslim and Arab countries and writers’ associations that have said they will stay away from the March 14-19 Paris book fair.

Lebanon announced it would boycott the event on Wednesday, after organizers announced that 39 Israeli writers were being invited to mark the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state. Paris expressed regret at Beirut’s decision. “It is an extremely regrettable decision,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said Friday. “This kind of event should remain open.”

The first group to oppose the salute to Israel was the 50-nation Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISECSCO), which last Tuesday called for a boycott of the event by Islamic states.

“The crimes against humanity that Israel is perpetrating in the Palestinian territories … constitute, in themselves, a strong condemnation of Israel,” an ISECSCO spokesman said, “making it unworthy of being welcomed as a guest of honor at an international book fair.”

The Tunisian Publishers Union on Friday announced that it too would refuse to take part in the fair. Twenty-five Egyptian groups have already said they will not attend, as has the Union of Algerian Writers, while Yemen’s Public Book Authority has said it would not participate at the request of the Arab League. Bahrain and Qatar won’t attend either, though spokesmen of the Gulf states acknowledge they tend not to go anyway.

The book fair’s organizer said Friday that he too regrets the uproar. “I’m not a government minister, my job is to bring literature to readers,” Serge Eyrolles said. “I’m very surprised by how political this is getting. It was not at all our goal, which was to invite Israeli literature, not the state of Israel.”

Each year the international fair puts the spotlight on one country. This year its list of Israeli invitees includes David Grossman, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and Aharon Appelfeld. A similar controversy is brewing about the May book fair in Turin, Italy, which is also highlighting Israeli works.

Eyrolles denies claims that the fair will celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. He said it was merely coincidence, as Israel has asked to be honored for five years in a row but there was a waiting list. Many of the Israeli writers being honored are firm supporters of Palestinian statehood, he added.

Eyrolles, who is president of France’s National Publishing Union, said that, though Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian publishing representatives had canceled their stands at the fair, some writers, publishers and booksellers from those countries will still attend.

In a blog entry, Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun argued Arabs should attend the Turin fair. “Criticize the policies of a state. Criticize a novel on its literary merit. That’s possible,” he wrote. “But don’t mix up the two things and create even an even bigger lack of understanding.”

On his blog, Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan argued “all women and men of conscience – a category by no means restricted to Palestinians or Arabs” should protest because “the guest of honor is a country that refuses to respect the rights and the dignity of peoples.

Common sense should be our guide,” he added. “The international community’s silence over the plight of the Palestinians is shameful enough without adding insult to injury.” – Agencies



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