Book Week attacked for 'anti-Israel' event

By Simon Rocker, January 13, 2011
Controversial: Gideon Levy

Controversial: Gideon Levy

Jewish Book Week has defended a session in its forthcoming programme featuring a panel of two journalists known for their bitter denunciations of Israel, and which is jointly promoted by a journal accused of "unremitting hostility" to Israel.

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy will discuss his book, The Punishment of Gaza, with Independent journalist Johann Hari in an event billed as in association with the London Review of Books.

The session, due to take place in London on March 6, has been sharply criticised.

Jonathan Hoffman, joint vice-president of the Zionist Federation, said he would boycott Jewish Book Week, saying: "It is barmy for Jewish organisations to put Israel's enemies on a plinth."

Israeli historian Efraim Karsh, professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College, London, said: "It's not the first time JBW has given prominence to Israel detractors, whether outsiders or home-grown. One wonders at times whether 'Palestinian Book Week' wouldn't be a more fitting name to this annual event."

David Conway, Middlesex University emeritus professor of philosophy, described it as "imbalanced". He added: "At a time when Israel is being subject to a concerted campaign to demonise it, it is disappointing that a Jewish organisation sees fit to devote a session to discussion of a book without including someone sympathetic to the Israeli side."

But Geraldine d'Amico, JBW director, called the reaction "surprising". She said: "We have a very eclectic programme with over 100 speakers with a wide-ranging spectrum of opinions.

"An intellectual boycott is certainly not the way to deal with opinions we do not share. Our tradition is based on dialogue and debate and we are a proud part of it."

Mr Levy's book, according to its publisher Verso, views Israel's incursion into Gaza two years ago as "a vicious act of aggression".

In a recent report on the London Review of Books, the media monitoring organisation Just Journalism said it showed "unremitting hostility to the Jewish state".

Mr Hari has also been the cause of controversy. In a 2008 article, he accused Israel of having "ethnically cleansed" 800,000 Palestinians and wrote, referring to raw sewage in Gaza: "How did a Jewish state founded
60 years ago with a promise to be 'a light unto the nations,' end up flinging its filth at a cowering Palestinian population?"

Last updated: 1:03pm, January 13 2011