Man Booker winner donates prize money to human rights group critical of Israel government

Man Booker winner gives away half of prize money.


The translator of David Grossman’s Man Booker award-winning novel has donated half her prize money to the Israeliorganisation B’Tselem which records human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories.

Jessica Cohen shared the £50,000 prize with the Israeli author for his book A Horse Walks Into A Bar, with both receiving an extra £1,000 for being shortlisted.

British-born Ms Cohen, who has also translated Israeli authors such as Etgar Keret, Dorit Rabinyan and Tom Segev, revealed the move in her acceptance speech at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum last night.

She said:  “I’m not going to waste my breath hoping for change to come from the current Israeli administration, but I do hope that Israeli and Palestinian people can rekindle whatever shred of humanism and empathy they still have.

“It’s not easy to tell unflattering and uncomfortable truths, and it’s certainly not easy to hear them, but it is essential, not only in literature but in life, and I hope that organizations like B’Tselem can continue to do so.”

The left-wing organisation, which has long been the subject of controversy, has recorded around 700 Palestinian fatalities over the last two decades.

B’Tselem means “in the image of” and is also used in Hebrew as a synonym for human dignity. The organisation has been operating for almost 30 years and employs 40 staff in Jerusalem, a quarter of whom are Palestinian field researchers. 

It has published scores of reports on human rights violations in the territories, but in recent months adopted a more pro-active stance, with its executive director Hagai El-Ad last year speaking out against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank at the UN.

The international version of the Man Booker literary award is open to books written in other languages which have been translated into English. Published by Jonathan Cape, the novel describes a one-night stand-up performance by a comedian in Netanya.

Mr Grossman is also a long-term supporter of B’Tselem.

Accepting an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University this month, he said: “Fifty years of occupation. What do they do to a person’s soul, to the spirit of a nation? To both the occupied and the occupier?”

He added: “A life lived in constant war when there is no genuine intent to end the war, a life of fear and suspicion and violence, is by definition a life of restriction. It restricts the soul and the mind. It is a life of crude, stereotypical perceptions, of denying another people’s humanity, and consequently, of denying any other.”

After the award was announced, Mr El-Ad took to social media to congratulate the pair and said: “Deeply moved and excited to congratulate author David Grossman and translator Jessica Cohen for winning the Man Booker Prize. David Grossman is a member of B'Tselem's public council.

“Jessica Cohen said on receiving the prize that her hope for change is not from the current Israeli government, but from Israelis and Palestinians. She spoke about trying to find the language to express the human experiences we all share.”

He added: Heartfelt thanks to you Jessica, and warm greetings to you and to David Grossman. With your help, and with the help of many others, we will continue to do exactly that.”

B'Tselem is partly funded by the New Israel Fund. Adam Ognall, chief executive of the UK arm, told the JC: “We are very proud that Jessica Cohen has chosen to donate some of her Booker Prize award to New Israel Fund grantee B’Tselem. This is a poignant and powerful moment, as we mark 50 years of the Occupation, for her to express public support for one of Israel’s leading human rights groups who work in the Occupied territories. Speaking truth to power is a value that is common to both authors and activists.” 

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