'Boycott' fails to ruin Turin's book fair in honour of Israel

Calls for a boycott had little impact on the Turin Book Fair, which honoured Israel and Israeli authors last weekend on the Jewish state’s 60th birthday.

Thousands of book-lovers flocked to hear some of Israel’s top authors present their works at a long roster of public readings and round-table talks.

“We had huge audiences at conferences and debates that featured extraordinary guests such as AB Yehoshua, Aharon Appelfeld, Etgar Keret, Meir Shalev, and Sami Michael, among others,” Book Fair director Ernesto Torino told the daily La Repubblica. “What more do you want? It was understood that the Book Fair is a place of dialogue and debate, not a fortress.”

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano opened the five-day fair, which closed on Monday, and other senior political figures took part.

“No dialogue is possible if there is a rejection of the legitimacy of the state of Israel, or of the reasons for its birth or of its right to exist in peace and security,” Mr Napolitano said in his opening address.

This was a right, he added, that “can and must be combined with the right of the Palestinian people to give birth to their own state”.

The book fair is a huge event that annually attracts more than 300,000 visitors.

More than 1,400 publishers were represented this year, and the overall program included more than 2,000 speakers at nearly 1,000 conferences, debates and other events. Israel had a flag-bedecked stand showcasing books, brochures and other material.

Pro-Palestinian groups had called for a boycott of the fair because of Israel’s role as guest of honour. On Saturday, several thousand demonstrators carrying pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel banners staged a protest march through Turin.

The Italian media had warned that there might be possible clashes, but the turnout was lower than predicted and no incidents took place.

“In the end it was a tempest in a teapot,” said Jewish commentator David Sorani.

Lisa Palmieri-Billig, the Rome representative of the American Jewish Committee, called the protest “very insignificant” adding that the Fair as a whole “a demonstration of love for Israel”.

    Last updated: 12:40pm, May 16 2008