The director of Jewish Book Week has rejected criticism that it should not have given a platform to two leading critics of Israel.
On Sunday afternoon Tariq Ali, left-wing student leader of the 60s and now a writer and broadcaster, will be interviewing Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor and founder of the London Review of Books, whose anti-Israel views have been well-documented.
Geraldine D’Amico, director of Jewish Book Week, said: “They are coming to talk about her book about the Eitingons, who were her family. That is what they will be discussing. They are not coming to talk about Israel and it has got nothing to do with Israel.”
In an interview with the Sunday Times in October last year Ms Wilmers, who is Jewish, said: “I’m unambiguously hostile to Israel because it’s a mendacious state. They do things that are just so immoral and counterproductive and, as a Jew, especially as a Jew, you can’t justify that.”
She said she had been to Israel “briefly, a few years ago. I had some interesting conversations.”
She also said she agreed with Cherie Blair’s view “about being a suicide bomber if she’d been brought up in Gaza”.
In 2006 Ms Wilmers published an article by two academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, claiming that American foreign policy was under the control of an “Israel lobby”. The article caused controversy on both sides of the Atlantic.
Professor Shalom Lappin, professor of computational linguistics at King’s College, London, said: “I’m not at all happy about this. I think it’s absurd that official institutions of the Jewish community need to ingratiate themselves with people who show themselves to be hostile to existential Israeli concerns.
“I don’t know what the organisers were thinking when they did this. Of course, there is freedom of speech and they can say what they like. But I don’t see why Jewish Book Week should provide a platform for them.
"I know it needs to promote itself but they need to invite people who are informed about Jewish and Israeli matters, not people who have uninformed views and attitudes. This is precisely why I have stopped attending these events. These events should have dissent, but I don’t see why this kind of contemptuous view of Judaism and Israel needs to be promoted.”
Zionist Federation president and former Labour MP Eric Moonman was equally scathing.
“It’s extraordinary that the organisers put these two people together and most unfortunate that it is at the start of the week,” he said. “There are so many good things and so many very good authors coming in."
He added: “They really haven’t done their homework because the week is about learning, information and education. It shouldn’t be trying to put people off. I think people will be offended. I think it is an insult.”