Ian McEwan: Engage with Israel even if you disagree

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan

The British writer Ian McEwan has expressed his belief in the importance of engaging with Israeli politics rather than boycotting the country.

Speaking in Israel ahead of a ceremony at which he will receive this year’s Jerusalem Prize, Israel’s highest honour for foreign writers, Mr McEwan said: “You cannot isolate [literature] but I take it as a bad sign when politics permeates every corner of life”.

According to the Guardian, he added: “I don't feel I endorse every corner of Israel's domestic or foreign policy…but I feel it's right to engage with it."

In Israel for the first time, Mr McEwan said he was aware he was “in a country with a true democracy of opinion” and said Israel should be “agitating” for the spread of democracy across the Middle East.

Mr McEwan has been targeted by anti-Israel campaigners since he was named as the prizewinner last month. In a letter to the Guardian a group called Writers in Support of Palestine demanded that the Atonement author boycotted the award.

But in a response printed in the newspaper, Mr McEwan said he wanted to find out for himself the facts about Israel.

Mr McEwan, who said he wanted to spend time touring Israel, this morning joined Israeli author David Grossman at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

He will collect his award on Sunday at the start of the biennial Jerusalem International Book Festival.

Last updated: 3:32pm, February 18 2011