Letter to PEN American Center: Don’t Partner with Israeli Government

Israeli government is no “Champion” of freedom of expression

To PEN American Center:

We, the undersigned, including participants at PEN World Voices Festival, ask the Festival to reject support from the Embassy of Israel. The Embassy of Israel is listed among the “Champions” of the World Voices Festival, and as a sponsor of a panel.

Given PEN American Center’s mission of supporting freedom of expression, it is deeply regrettable that the Festival has chosen to accept sponsorship from the Israeli government, even as it intensifies its decades-long denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people, including the frequent targeting of Palestinian writers and journalists.

In 2011, PEN International criticized Israel’s detention of Palestinian writer Dr. Ahmad Qatamesh. In 2014, Israel launched a 50-day assault on the Gaza Strip that left over 2100 Palestinians dead – including 500 children – and displaced a fourth of the population. During the assault, PEN International condemned “the killings and the reported deliberate targeting of certain journalists, media organizations, and their infrastructures” in Gaza by the Israeli military. PEN International called in 2016 “on the Israeli authorities to end the practice of administrative detention against journalists and other writers,” including the hunger-striking journalist Muhammed al-Qiq. Nonetheless, both Palestinian and international journalists and writers face heightened levels of repression by the Israeli government.

In 2015 Israel denied Palestinian American novelist Susan Abulhawah entry into Palestine, and African American writer Kristian Davis Bailey was racially profiled, arrested and harassed by Israeli authorities when he attempted to visit Palestine. All these incidents are part of a broader pattern of Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinian artists and cultural workers as well as the suppression of voices supportive of Palestinian rights.

Within Israel, Palestinian and Jewish artists say that their freedom of expression is increasingly limited. A proposed new law would make “government cultural funding contingent on the recipient’s ‘loyalty’ to the Jewish state.” Israel’s “Nakba Law” prohibits funding for activities marking the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948, deterring Palestinians and Israeli Jews from commemorating their history. According to Human Rights Watch Israel’s anti-boycott law, which makes it a civil offense for people or groups to advocate boycotting Israel, violates “the rights to freedom of expression and association, and punishes advocacy urging businesses to respect international law.”

Since 2005, Palestinian civil society has called on people of conscience around the world to engage in a peaceful campaign of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning (BDS) Israel in order to force it to comply with international law and respect the rights of Palestinians now living under Israeli military occupation, as unequal citizens within Israel, or as refugees, denied their right to return to their homeland. The union representing Palestinian writers, the General Union of Palestinian Writers, actively supports this boycott call.

We appeal to PEN American Center to honor this boycott call and refuse sponsorship by the Israeli embassy or any complicit Israeli institution for the 2016 World Voices Festival and for future PEN American Center activities. Sustaining a partnership with the Israeli government amounts to a tacit endorsement of its systematic violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, including the right to freedom of expression for writers and journalists. This is not, we emphasize, a call to boycott individual Israelis or to deny their freedom of expression. Rather, it is a refusal to conduct business as usual with a state that routinely denies Palestinian freedom of expression with impunity.

As with South Africa, where an international boycott played a crucial role in bringing an end to apartheid, we call on PEN American Center not to partner with the Israeli government or other complicit institutions until Israel fulfills its obligations under international law and fully recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to live in full equality and freedom in their homeland.

Initial Signatories

Organizations: 11
Individuals: 61


Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel - (US)
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel in South Africa (BDS South Africa)
Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within
CODEPINK Women for Peace
Jewish Voice for Peace, National (USA)
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) - (Palestine)
PEN Palestine
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
The Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest)
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel - (US)


Susan Abulhawa - PEN Member
Ammiel Alcalay
Meena Alexander - PEN Member, PEN Freedom to Write, 2002 PEN Open Book Award
Sinan Antoon
Anthony Arnove - assisted with PEN World Voices Festival
Kristian Davis Bailey
Moustafa Bayoumi
Max Blumenthal
Breyten Breytenbach
Carmen Callil - PEN Member
Jordan Camp - 2016 PEN World Voices Festival Participant
Hayan Charara - PEN Member
Amit Chaudhuri
Ken Chen - PEN Awards Committee, PEN Ten Editor, PEN events collaborator
Molly Crabapple - PEN Member
Ramola D - PEN Member
Angela Davis
Junot Díaz
Aaron Dixon
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Geoff Dyer - PEN Member
Jillian Edelstein
Deborah Eisenberg - Writer
Laura Flanders - 2016 PEN World Voices Festival Participant
Richard Ford - PEN Member
Ru Freeman - PEN Member
Marilyn Hacker - PEN Member, 2010 PEN/Voelcker Award, 2009 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation
Saleem Haddad - 2016 PEN World Voices Festival Participant
Nathan Hamilton
Githa Hariharan
Selina Hastings
Christina Heatherton - 2016 PEN World Voices Festival Participant
Rachel Holmes - Former Trustee of English PEN UK
Andrew Hsiao - Editor of books/authors featured in PEN World Voices Festival, assisted with Festival
Randa Jarrar - PEN Member
Ronnie Kasrils
Robin D. G. Kelley - 2010 PEN Open Book Award
Nancy Kricorian - PEN Member
Arun Kundnani - 2016 PEN World Voices Festival Participant
Hari Kunzru - Former Board Member of English PEN
Sabrina Mahfouz
Dr. Don Mattera - 1983 PEN Award
China Miéville
Michel Moushabeck
Susan Muaddi Darraj - PEN Member
David Mura - PEN Member
Ed Pavlic - Published with World Voices and PEN Poetry Series, PEN Member
Vijay Prashad
Alexandra Pringle
Dr. Ahmad Qatamesh - Palestinian author, and subject of PEN International alert when administratively detained by Israeli government
Corey Robin
Alice Rothchild
Sarah Schulman - PEN Member
Kamila Shamsie - Former Vice-President of English PEN
Robert Shetterly
Rick Simonson - PEN Member
Gillian Slovo - Former President of English PEN 2010-2013
Ahdaf Soueif - PEN Member
Linda Spalding - PEN Member
Eliot Weinberger - PEN Member
Dave Zirin - PEN Member, 2016 PEN award judge

Additional Signatories

Total: 148
Spurl Editions
Seven Stories Press
Sharif Abdel Kouddous
Elmaz Abinader
Hosam Aboul-Ela
Dr Fawzia Afzal-Khan
Tariq Al Haydar
bernardo alayza mujica
Evelyn Alsultany
Ana Cecilia Alvarez
Tom Angotti
Nicole Aragi
Maryam Ashraf
Gabeba Baderoon
Anna Badkhen
Natylie Baldwin
David Ball
Michael Balter
Mary Jo Bang
Ari Banias
Russell Banks
Omar Berrada
Deborah Brock
Gisa Buehrer-Lucke
Edmond Caldwell
Mary Baine Campbell
Annia Ciezadlo
Jan Clausen
Bill Clegg
David Collings
Patricia Davis
Eisa Davis
Ashley Dawson
Linh Dinh
Elana Dykewomon
Patricia Eakins
Chike Frankie Edozian
Ben Ehrenreich
Kathy Engel
Gary Erb
Louise Erdrich
Shelley Ettinger
Peter Fitting
Aminatta Forna
Tonya Foster
John Freeman
Joshua Furst
Alan Gilbert
Francisco Goldman
Arthur Goldwag
Rawi Hage
Joseph Hall
Tom Hall
Wael Hallaq
Christian Hawkey
Caspar Henderson
Yuri Herrera
Patricia Hilden
Jen Hofer
Ann Horne
Fanny Howe
Iman Humaydan
Brenda Iijima
Dan Israel
Tania James
Elisabeth Jaquette
Pierre Joris
Lawrence Joseph
Jamal Joseph
Fady Joudah
Ashraf Kagee
Dr. Mohja Kahf
Remi Kanazi
Temma Kaplan
Michael Keefer
Brigid Keenan
Porochista Khakpour
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
Khaldoun Khelil
Amitava Kumar
Rachel Kushner
Dr. Joy Ladin
Laila Lalami
Jay Levin
Aurora Levins Morales
John Lewis
Lucy Lippard
Jennifer Mackenzie
Alexander Maksik
Karen Malpede
Patrick Mathelié-Guinlet
Nyla Matuk
David McDowall
David McNally
Askold Melnyczuk
Maaza Mengiste
Philip Metres
Daphne Muse
Eileen Myles
Joan Nestle
Harry Newman
Maryvelma O'Neil
John Oakes
Michael Ondaatje
Christina Pacosz
Hilary Plum
Amanda Ngoho Reavey
Roger Reeves
marta renza
Sarah Riggs
Reihana Robinson
Colin Robinson
Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Andrew Ross
Khalil Rostamkhani
Jeffrey Sacks
Trish Salah
Luc Sante
Gabriel Schivone
Glenn Shaheen
Solmaz Sharif
Dan Sheehan
Adania Shibli
Naomi Shihab Nye
Ishtiyaq Shukri
Ian Singleton
Tom Sleigh
Mark Haskell Smith
Muge Sokmen
Norman Solomon
Burhan Sönmez
Dean Spade
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Patricia Storace
Scott Sturgeon
Russel Swensen
Maia Tabet
Jennif(f)er Tamayo
Madeleine Thien
Kerry Elizabeth Thompson
Siamak Vossoughi
Alice Walker
Dr. Cornel West
Laura Whitehorn
Terry Tempest Williams
Clarence Young
Alex Zucker
Martha Zweig