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.
April 26, 2016, New York, NY – The opening of PEN American Center’s annual World Voices Festival in New York City was met with a protest Monday evening focusing on the call for PEN American Center to reject Israeli government funding for the festival due to Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights and freedom of expression. Also on Monday, PEN International expressed “concern” over the festival’s Israeli government funding, saying it would develop guidelines “regarding funding from countries with a poor record on freedom of expression.”
Over 16,500 individuals, including 200 literary figures, have signed a letter calling on PEN American Center to reject Israeli government funding. Letter signers include Pulitzer Prize-winners Junot Díaz, Richard Ford and Alice Walker, National Book Award-winner Louise Erdrich, Booker Prize-winner Michael Ondaatje, and writers and activists Angela Davis and Cornel West. In promotional materials for the World Voices Festival, PEN listed the Israeli Embassy among the festival’s “Champions,” and as a sponsor of at least one panel.
The evening was opened by PEN America president Andrew Solomon, who said that PEN and the festival’s role was “to ensure many voices from many places can be heard”. But in recent years PEN has had some trouble smoothing out conflicts among its membership, usually ones which reflect the fault lines of global politics.
New York, NY, April 20, 2016 – A delegation from Adalah-NY, O/R Books and Verso Books held an impromptu meeting with PEN American Center Executive Director Suzanne Nossel on Tuesday regarding the call for PEN to reject Israeli government sponsorship of the World Voices Festival due to the Israeli government’s human rights abuses and suppression of Palestinians’ freedom of expression. The meeting took place in the PEN American Center office in Manhattan after the delegation delivered a letter signed by 12,500 people that called on PEN to reject Israeli government sponsorship for the annual festival, which begins April 25 in New York City. The letter was accompanied by statements from more than 20 literary figures explaining why they signed the letter to PEN.
Though the delegation had not asked for an appointment in advance, Ms. Nossel agreed to meet. While waiting in the reception area, the delegation picked up hard copies of the program for the 2016 World Voices Festival that lists the Israeli Embassy among the “Champions” of the festival supporting writing and free expression.
Ms. Nossel told the visitors that she had read the statements by writers explaining why they believe PEN should reject Israeli government sponsorship. She said the letter and statements raised “legitimate concerns” and that the points were “not lost on her,” and she said there are diverse views on the issue. Ms. Nossel added that being responsive “may take time and space.” When John Oakes from O/R Books suggested that PEN supporters might fundraise to cover the costs of Israeli writers/participants so that PEN could return the money to the Israeli government, Ms. Nossel said PEN cannot consider returning the money, and asserted that there is a strong reaction against the word “boycott.” She did not elaborate on that point.
PEN American Center has been called upon to reject the Israeli Government's sponsorship of its upcoming World Voices Festival because of the country's alleged abuses of human rights. The letter was signed by more than 60 writers, including a number of PEN members and PEN Award winners and Pulitzer Prize winners Junot Diaz, Alice Walker, and Richard Ford. Nearly a dozen organizations have also signed the letter.
140 Writers Have Signed the Letter, Including 70 PEN Members and World Voices Festival Participants
April 12, 2016, New York, NY – Twenty-two literary figures who signed a letter calling on the PEN American Center to reject Israeli government sponsorship of its World Voices Festival due to Israel’s human rights abuses have elaborated on their decision in quotes below. The Festival is being held in New York City from April 25-May 1.
The letter, originally signed by 61 writers, was sent to PEN on March 29 by Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign to Boycott Israel. PEN indicated in a reply that they would not drop Israeli government funding. The number of letter signers has since grown to 140 writers and 13 organizations. Among the newer signers is Dr. Cornel West, who joins a number of other prominent writers and public intellectuals, including Angela Davis, Pulitzer recipients Junot Díaz, Richard Ford and Alice Walker, and National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich.
A letter signed by more than 100 writers, including Junot Díaz, Richard Ford, Eileen Myles and Rachel Kushner, calls on PEN American Center to reject support from the Israeli government for its annual World Voices Festival, scheduled for later this month in New York City.
The letter, which was first sent privately by the campaign group Adalah-NY to festival organizers, was published online on 5 April.
Since its publication, the list of signatories has grown. Organizers say they hope writers will continue to add their names.
Some 100 writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker, Richard Ford, and Junot Diaz, have urged the PEN American Centre to reject any support from Israel as it denies “basic rights to the Palestinian people.”
The writers sent an impassioned letter to PEN American Centre in March but it became public only on Wednesday. PEN American Center, created in 1922, is a group aiming to promote literature and support literary fellowship.