By Jenni Frazer
January 20, 2011
Presumably the judges for the Jerusalem Prize make careful soundings as to whether an intended recipient will be ready to accept the $10,000 award.
Because, naturally, the naysayers have been out in force since the announcement that this year's award is to be given to the British novelist, Ian McEwan, author of The Comfort of Strangers, On Chesil Beach, and Atonement.
In a slightly desperate attempt to knock McEwan off balance the Guardian's Stephen Bates rather oddly wrote that the writer had "signalled" (how? with semaphore?) that he had every intention of accepting the award in Jerusalem. It was, he said, "a highly distinguished award, and I am honoured to join the backlist of writers who are previous winners."
With admirable frankness McEwan told the Guardian that he was neither a supporter of the Israeli settler movement, nor of Hamas, and that "it is the Jerusalem Book Fair, not the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which is making the award. I would urge people to make the distinction - it is about literature."
Hooray for Ian McEwan, and hooray for other creative artists who recognise the difference between arts and culture and political expediency. So that's a thumbs up to Leonard Cohen, Elton John, Madonna, Paul McCartney, and yes, Johnny Rotten, and thumbs down to Elvis Costello and others who foolishly backed out of appearances in Israel. And a special place in hell reserved for Mike Leigh, who should, but doesn't, know better.
Betty Hunter, by the way, the general secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, while falling over herself to denounce McEwan's acceptance of the award, couldn't prevent herself describing it as "this prestigious prize." So, which is it, Betty? I reckon for once in your life you got it right.