Private letter From PEN American Center to members

From: Jakab Orsos
Subject: Message from PEN America
March 29, 2016 at 3:21:23 PM EDT

We are writing because, along with some participants in this year's Festival, we have received an e-mail from Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel. The email asks Festival participants to sign an open letter calling upon PEN to refuse sponsorship support from the Israeli government as a contribution to the PEN World Voices Festival (PWVF). As an activist organization dedicated to freedom of expression‎, we respect the right of any group to share and advocate for their views. We want to share our approach to the challenging issues raised by the e-mail.

PEN’s mission centers on the defense of creative freedom and the promotion of dialogue that transcends political, social, and cultural boundaries, with the goal of sustaining vital connections between the US and the world. The Festival aims to enable the richest, broadest conversations possible on global issues of shared concern.  Societies in which human rights abuse occurs always include liberal voices, and it is part of our work to ensure that those voices are heard as broadly as possible. When confronted with nuanced and complex issues, PEN and PWVF must always fall on the side of maximum protections for free expression. With that guiding principle in mind, PEN does not and cannot subscribe to cultural boycotts of any kind—which impede individual free expression—no matter the cause. 

In the dozen years since its founding, PWVF has received funding from many sources, including several dozen governments that have provided individual writers from their own countries with travel and other expenses. This includes the subsidies received for PWVF 2016. The diversity of our funding helps to ensure that programming decisions are our own. ‎It is important to note that national sponsorships of Festival writers do not imply any endorsement of those governments’ policies, and have no bearing on PEN's free expression advocacy decisions. 

As an organization of writers and intellectuals, we recognize ‎that these issues are complex and that individual writers will bring their own perspectives to them. We are happy to discuss this with you further. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions before the Festival, or while you are here with us in New York. 


Colm Toibin
Chair, PEN World Voices Festival
PEN America

Jakab Orsos
Director, PEN World Voices Festival
PEN America

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