Email Exchange between PEN America and Adalah-NY/JVP: February 2017

February 6 Email from Adalah-NY and JVP to PEN America

Dear Ms. Nossel,

We are writing to reiterate the call made almost a year ago by over 100 well-known writers, poets, publishers, and other members of the literary community for PEN America to reject sponsorship from the Israeli government for the annual World Voices Festival. Twenty-two of those writers explained in more detail why they supported that call.

All of them agree that it is wrong for PEN America, an institution with the stated aim of defending writers' freedom of expression, to accept sponsorship from the Israeli government. PEN International has criticized the Israeli government for "the killings and the reported deliberate targeting of certain journalists, media organizations, and their infrastructures” and “the practice of administrative detention against journalists and other writers."

In an April 2016 meeting, you told us that being responsive “may take time and space.” Also in April, PEN International President Jennifer Clement wrote to Adalah-NY that, “PEN International shares your concern. At present we are formalizing our recommended guidelines for the world’s PEN Centres regarding funding from countries with a poor record on freedom of expression."

With the World Voices Festival fast approaching in May, we have not yet heard of any steps taken by PEN America to address these concerns. In the meantime, the Israeli government continues to arrest, prosecute and imprison Palestinian writers like the poet Dareen Tatour, and criminalizes dissent on social media. The number of signatories to the letter calling on PEN America to reject Israeli government sponsorship continues to grow.

There are now 240 notable literary signers, including Susan Abulhawa, Russell Banks, Angela Davis, Junot Díaz, Louise Erdrich, Richard Ford, Naomi Klein, Laila Lalami, Lucy Lippard, China Miéville, Eileen Myles, Michael Ondaatje, Claudia Rankine, Wallace Shawn, Raja Shehadeh, Gillian Slovo, Alice Walker, Cornel West, and Jacqueline Woodson. Over 17,000 other concerned individuals have also signed.

Palestinian civil society has called on people of conscience around the world to engage in a peaceful campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), focusing – not on individuals – but on the Israeli government, and complicit companies and institutions. As we’ve emphasized to you, we are not calling to bar Israeli writers from participating in World Voices; rather, we’re asking for an end to Israeli government funding of the festival. Some among us have even offered to help replace income PEN would forgo if it rejected Israeli government funding.

We continue to call on PEN America to stand by its stated principles and to reject partnerships with the Israeli government until Israel fulfills its obligations under international law and fully recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to live in full equality in their homeland. As you noted in your November 9th message on PEN’s blog, events like the World Voices Festival carry even more critical significance in the current political moment. PEN America cannot mobilize actions in opposition to the Trump administration’s repressive policies with one hand, and burnish the image of the administration’s close and repressive ally, the Israeli government, with the other.

With this letter, we request clarity from PEN America on whether you will honor this call. We look forward to your response by February 12th.

Sincerely,

Patrick Connors
On behalf of
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel

Shalva Wise
On behalf of
Jewish Voice for Peace

The full list of current notable signers: adalahny.org/web-action/1450/tell-pen-america-don-t-partner-israeli-government


February 8 Email from Suzanne Nossel of PEN America to Adalah-NY and JVP

Dear Patrick and Shalva:

Thanks for your note; we always welcome all points of view on such matters and appreciate Adalah:  The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel’s concern about PEN America.  Our organizational policies remain as they were when we last connected. Each year, our sources of funding for the Festival change depending on a wide range of factors. Rob Spillman is chairing this year’s curatorial committee, working with our General Manager Kim Chan. I checked in with the team and our support this year will come from contributions from a variety of private funders, as well as the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Poland.  We look forward to announcing plans for the 2017 World Voices Festival in the coming weeks.

Very best wishes,
Suzanne


February 14 Email from Adalah-NY and JVP to PEN America

Dear Suzanne,

Thank you very much for this response. We are pleased to hear that the Israeli government will not be among the funders of the 2017 World Voices Festival.

You state that festival funding sources are based on a "wide range of factors,” and that PEN’s “organizational policies remain as they were” when we met with you in April 2016. As you may know, we are concerned about PEN America’s funding sources not just in 2017, but in principle going forward. The Israeli government has supported the festival on and off since 2006. In the absence of a PEN America decision based in policy or principles, we are worried that your response leaves the door open for PEN America to accept support in 2018 and beyond from the Israeli government and other governments with documented records of repressing freedom of expression and violating human rights.

In light of these broader concerns, we are interested in learning more about PEN America's organizational policies and guidelines on accepting funding from governments. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Patrick Connors
On behalf of
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel

Shalva Wise
On behalf of
Jewish Voice for Peace


February 17 Email from Suzanne Nossel of PEN America

Dear Patrick and Shalva:

Decisions about any questions of funding that may raise concerns, whether from governments or otherwise, are taken in consultation with staff and, where appropriate, our Board of Trustees Executive Committee as well.  Because we’re a relatively small organization with a limited number of funders our approach to this centers on discussion and deliberation rather than formal policies.

All my best,
Suzanne