Book Week boss accuses Edinburgh event of bias

By Shelly Paz, June 20, 2008

Jewish Book Week director Geraldine D’Amico has expressed disappointment that the Edinburgh International Book Festival plans to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary by focusing on the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, the Palestinian term for the creation of Israel.

The main session will feature the anti-Zionist historian Ilan Pappé, who is due to discuss his project “Nakba: Return of the Soul,” together with co-creators Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian writer, and artist Jane Frere. The exhibition “enshrines the stories of those who had to leave” Israel during the 1948 war.

According to Ms D’Amico, the director of the Edinburgh Festival, Catherine Lockerbie, “is a great festival organiser, a friend and a role model. In 2006, she rejected calls for a boycott of Israeli speakers when the Edinburgh Film Festival shamefully did not. This is why I was saddened now to see that in 2008 the only recognition of Israel’s 60 years of existence is a talk on the Nakba, with no-one to make the case for Israel.”

According to the festival programme, Dr Pappé “has uncovered the full extent of what he considers ethnic cleansing” in Israel. It adds: “In this 60th anniversary year of the founding of Israel, we have a special focus on the Nakba — the displacement of the Palestinians to make way for the new population, and the seemingly intractable problems which resonate to this day. Equally, we examine Jewish experience and some of the horrors of the Holocaust in [our section on] Jews in the world.”

Colin Shindler, professor of Israeli Studies at London University and author of a recent history of Israel, commented: “The organisers are politically illiterate. The unsaid agenda is not to recall the Palestinian Nakba — a legitimate subject for discussion — but to underline the fact that the Jews really do not have a right to national self-determination in Israel. The festival’s ‘outrage’ is selective and they do a disservice to intellectual debate in this country.”

But Ms Lockerbie told the JC: “The Festival is passionately committed to exploring all sides of world affairs. We are proud to have had some distinguished Israeli writers, including Amos Oz and David Grossman, as well as powerful voices from the Jewish community in the UK , USA and Europe. It is not always necessary or desirable to balance out viewpoints, in a potentially tokenistic way, within a single hour-long event.”

On the schedule

The Edinburgh International Book Festival includes these events:

AUGUST 9  — Russell Razzaque  on “what turns a human being into a human bomb, a revealing insight into Islamic suicide bombing” 

AUGUST 9 —  Jane Frere, Ilan Pappé  and Raja Shehadeh: “To mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, the three will examine the enforced exodus of the Palestinian population” 

AUGUST 10 — Abdel Bari Atwan & Kasra Naji: Bari Atwan on his journey from boyhood in a Palestine refugee camp to leading journalist and Naji on Iran’s president Ahmadinejad.

AUGUST 10 —  Eva Figes and Ladislaus Löb:  Jews escaping the Nazis 

AUGUST 19 —  Edna Fernandes on the forgotten Jews of Kerala. 

Last updated: 1:23pm, June 19 2008