Arab authors boycott Emirates festival hosting Israeli

A man in glasses speaks into a microphone with a paper in his lap

Israeli author David Grossman’s participation in the Emirati literature festival triggered a wave of withdrawals from Arab writers. (Luiz Munhoz / Fronteiras do Pensamento)

Several Arab writers withdrew from a literature festival in the United Arab Emirates to protest the participation of an Israeli author.

David Grossman’s planned virtual presence next month at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai prompted writers from several states in the region to withdraw.

Among them are Omani author Bushra Khalfan and the entire Kuwaiti delegation that was participating in the festival, including writers Muna al-Shamari and Ali Ashour al-Jaffar.

The Gulf Coalition Against Normalization called on Sultan al-Musa, Osama Muhammad al-Muslim and Ahmad al-Ali from Saudi Arabia to back out of the event as well, among others.
Their decision was applauded by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Gulf Coalition Against Normalization.

Grossman’s participation is a “clear and explicit violation” of the cultural boycott of Israel, the groups charged, calling on Arab authors to withdraw.

“The participation of an Israeli Zionist novelist and the celebration of him as a ‘peace activist’ in a festival held in an Arab land” is a ploy to “pull Arab writers into the swamp of cultural and literary normalization with the Israeli enemy,” the groups added.

The groups noted Grossman’s opposition to the Palestinian right of return and said he was a “supporter of apartheid.”

Grossman started his service in the intelligence branch of the Israeli military in 1971 and saw no problem with it at the time.

“I worked in intelligence and most of it I liked,” he told The Guardian in 2010. “I felt I was doing something important, that I wasn’t doing anything against my principles.”

Initially, the author supported Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and only towards the end called for a ceasefire. His son was killed in the fighting.

Despite opposing settlements and occasionally attending protests in the West Bank, Grossman was always a supporter of the Israeli army and has expressed pride in being a reservist.

More recently, Grossman has hinted that he actually agrees with the growing global consensus that Israel commits the crime of apartheid against Palestinians.

The Palestinian-led boycott campaign of Israel is modeled on the economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott that helped end aparthied in South Africa.

The withdrawal of so many participants is an indication that the United Arab Emirates will have a hard time turning its close alliance with Israel brokered by the Trump administration into a “warm peace.”

The Emirates Literature Foundation, which organizes the event, was founded by royal decree in 2013.

The festival’s main sponsor is Emirates, the airline owned by the Dubai government.

The Emirati ministry of culture, the Dubai government and the Dubai police are all partnering in the event. The US consulate in Dubai is among the sponsors.

It is also supported by Oxford University Press.

“We deplore that festival organizers insisted on including an Israeli author among dozens of Arab writers and creators,” PACBI and the Gulf Coalition Against Normalization added.

The groups said this is just the latest “desperate” attempt to force normalization onto Arab masses, who are “aware of this danger and reject it completely.”


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.