Ian McEwan responds to pro-Palestinian campaigners

By Jennifer Lipman, January 25, 2011
Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan has told a group of pro-Palestinian writers who criticised him for accepting an Israeli prize celebrating those who promote the "freedom of the individual in society" to respect his decision.

The novelist, who was awarded the 2011 Jerusalem Prize last week, said he disagreed with those who had called on him to boycott the prize.

In a letter to the Guardian, he wrote: “I'm for finding out for myself, and for dialogue, engagement, and looking for ways in which literature, especially fiction, with its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides.”

Responding to a letter printed in the Guardian and sent by a group called British Writers in Support of Palestine, whose members include prominent anti-Israel critic John Berger, Mr McEwan cited artists like Daniel Barenboim who offer “a beam of hope in a dark landscape”.

In the letter, the signatories accused Mr McEwan of being party to “a cruel joke and a propaganda tool for the Israeli state”.

They called on him to reject the prize - Israel’s most significant literary honour for foreign writers - and instead join them in a boycott of Israel. He has also been criticised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for accepting it.

But the Atonement author said: “There are ways in which art can have a longer reach than politics. If your organisation is against this particular project, then clearly we have nothing more to say to each other."

Pointing out that in the past winners have included Bertrand Russell and Simone de Beauvoir, he added: “I hope you will have the humility to accept that these writers had at least as much concern for freedom and human dignity as you do yourselves.

“Your 'line' is not the only one. Courtesy obliges you to respect my decision, as I would yours to stay away."

Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford also wrote a letter to the newspaper. She pointed out that while she opposed Israeli government policy, the suggestion that in accepting the award Mr McEwan was giving support to it was “patently absurd”

She added: “Having McEwan in town talking to a bunch of intellectuals, inter alia, about his opposition to settlements, may on the contrary cause that government some discomfort.”

Mr McEwan will go to Israel to collect the prize on February 20.

Last updated: 1:27pm, January 26 2011