Sunday, May 16, 2010

Shame on Atwood & Ghosh

If Ghassan Kanavani's fiction is an example of what literature can do to open minds and expand consciousness, the work of two other authors, Canadian Margaret Atwood and Bengali Amitav Ghosh, has at least always leaned toward the side of the exploited and oppressed. No more. This past Monday, the two accepted the $1 million Dan David Prize at Tel Aviv University.

Not only did they travel to Israel and accept the prize, along with the big big bucks. They gave a joint speech explicitly rejecting the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement and the direct appeals to them from Palestinian students to honor the boycott and refuse the prize. Atwood amplified on the speech by telling reporters, "We [artists] don't do boycotts." How self-righteously fake, from a writer who publicly opposed apartheid in South Africa. And what a strange principle this must seem to those who are currently building the boycott of Arizona. No, the reality is that what Atwood and Ghosh don't do is this boycott.

Let's be clear. These two authors may wish to appear above the fray. They have in fact taken a side. The side of the oppressor nation. To their eternal shame.

Rather than go on sputtering in outrage, I direct you to this excellent analysis at Pulse, headlined "Ghoshwood's Mendacity," where Robin Yassin-Kassab does a much better job than I could at exposing the hypocrisy, double standard, cowardice on display.
Atwood is supposedly a feminist writer. ... I wonder what Atwood would say to the struggling women of Palestine--the poets, journalists, protesters, stone throwers, organizers, the widows and bereaved mothers--were she to meet them. But she won't meet them. They aren't sipping wine at the Tel Aviv reception; they are locked up in their ghettoes and mourning their dead. They are wondering how to educate their children when their children don't have enough to eat, when they can't find pencils in the market, when the local school is a smouldering pile of debris.
I urge you to read the rest of this very thoughtful commentary. Yassin-Kassab also links to the Atwood-Ghosh speech so you can see for yourself.

I'll just add two quick points of my own.

One is directed to anyone, artists and academics especially, who might be inclined toward sympathy for the oppressed Palestinian nation but have reservations about the boycott. Perhaps you think it's not the best tactic. Perhaps you feel you can do more to support Palestine by going to Israel and doing what you can there, or working with Israeli universities or the like. I've seen such comments here and there. Listen: the Palestinian people are asking you to boycott. Who are you to put yourself above them and reject their appeal? How can you believe you know better than the organized movement that speaks for Palestine? During the time of the anti-apartheid movement, did you reject the appeal of the African National Congress, did you decide the ANC didn't know what it was doing and come up with your own tactic, did you defy the boycott and go to South Africa? Of course you didn't. You respected the request made by those fighting for liberation. You can do no less for Palestine--if you're still on the side of those fighting for liberation.

Otherwise you're on the other side. As Atwood and Ghosh have now declared themselves to be.

It's a tiny thing, but I'm removing Atwood and Ghosh books from my recommended list at the right-hand column of this blog. I'll sell those I own and donate what little cash they bring to organizations that support the cause of the Palestinian people.