Society of Authors ‘hijacked by extremists’ after Gaza motion omits Hamas

Jewish writers voiced fears that if the motion passes, the next stop may be boycott of ‘Zionists’ themselves


The Society of Authors (SoA) has been “hijacked by extremists”, Jewish writers have said, after members tabled a vote on a motion on Gaza that did not mention Hamas, the hostages or the slaughter of Israelis.

The Jewish intellectuals also voiced fears that if the resolution is passed, the next step may be a boycott of “Zionists” themselves.

The motion on Gaza focuses on the number of Palestinians killed, parrots Hamas figures about dead journalists and demands the SoA call for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire”.

The committee of the SoA – Britain’s oldest literary trade union with 12,000 members – opposes the motion, telling the JC: “It is outside the SoA’s remit. The value of the SoA is in the services it provides for members. Our expertise lies in small print: vetting contracts, lobbying government, giving grants and prizes.”

Victoria Selman, a thriller writer, said the resolution was “not the first time we’ve seen this agenda hijack British publishing. It feels like a campaign of stealth against Jewish authors. They can use the term Zionists but they mean Jewish. It’s very uncomfortable.”

“We’re scared of being boycotted,” writer Hilary Freeman added. Another said: “All it takes is one editor who decides not to renew my contract.”

Freeman said: “The SoA has no influence on Middle East politics. Its role is to support and help British authors and if this motion is passed, many of us will feel it no longer represents us.”

More than 600 SoA members have signed up for the extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on May 2 to vote on the resolution. The SoA committee added a comment to the motion asking members to vote it down.

Outgoing SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon told the JC: “We have published a detailed response from the Management Committee to explain exactly why the SoA should not make such a statement, and why we continue to encourage members to use their vote to oppose it.”

Solomon, who is retiring from the SoA this week, said: “We hope that the resolution does not pass. If it does we would strongly encourage members to remain within the SoA and to continue to use their voice from within.”

Freeman, however, said the SoA wording that introduces the resolution “is confusing and you don’t know what you’re voting for”. 

Concerns have been also raised about a “Palestinian lobby” trying to push the resolution through and Freeman suggested that the society had been “hijacked” by them. 

“There has been a lot of pressure on people to sign up for the EGM,” said crime writer Victoria Goldman.

An infographic encouraging attendance at the meeting has circulated on social media; anti-Israel authors have told writers to upgrade their membership to cast a vote; and other writers have offered to assist fellow members with proxy votes.

SoA internal laws only require 35 members to table a motion and trigger an EGM.

Those who proposed the resolution on Gaza include Professor Sunny Singh, who “reminded” her X followers on October 7 that Gaza is “an open air prison”. In November, she tweeted: “I never knew just how many 'courageous truth telling writers' were just racist genocide supporters.”

Another proposer, Mikaela Loach, shared a tweet on October 8 about “Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation”. She commented “decolonisation is not just an abstract academic theory” just hours after the massacre. 

Several writers worry that if the resolution passes it will open the door for further partisan motions. Jewish writer Marnie Riches told the JC: “Our union should not be captured by extremists, it’s there to represent authors, not activists.”

“A lot of people are scared to put their heads above the parapet,” Freeman said.

Head of SoA communications, Martin Reed, advised individual proposers not to respond to the JC’s request for comment and said it was “simply untrue” that extremists had hijacked the union.

“We are a trade union run on democratic principles, and as such our 12,500 members hold and express a wide range of views on this and any other matter. It is the union’s role to support them in that right, while as an organisation remaining neutral,” Reed said.

This is not the first time the SoA has been embroiled in political rows. In 2022, several authors resigned after they claimed the SoA had “failed to defend” author Kate Clanchy, who was accused of racism. In the same year, changes to SoA’s constitution lowered the bar for membership and blocked a free speech review.

One writer, who wished to remain anonymous, was concerned about book festivals. “There are a number of people in charge of big festivals who are pro-Palestine and whose publicly shared views easily tip into antisemitism,” they said. 

Tensions in the literary world have simmered since October 7. Activist group Book Workers for a Free Palestine has pushed for a cultural boycott. The group hosted a “vigil for Palestine” at London's annual book fair where they memorialised the late poet Dr Refaat Alareer, who tweeted a mocking quip about baking powder after news emerged that Israelis had been burned to death in the October 7 massacres. He was killed by an airstrike in Gaza.

Multiple publishing houses signed the “Publishers for Palestine statement of solidarity” which urged support for the BDS movement. The statement did not mention Hamas or the hostages, and “condemned the complicity of all those working within corporate and independent publishing”.

Various literary magazines have found themselves caught up in the storm. London-based publication Granta released a roundtable with BDS-supporting anti-Zionists complaining about Germany’s stance on antisemitism. Meanwhile, the editor-in-chief of Guernica, Jina Moore, recently announced her resignation after the magazine was forced to retract an essay by British-Israeli Joanna Chen.

Since October 7, prominent figures in publishing have commented on the extent of anti-Jewish prejudice in the book world.

Several writers say they had lost close friends in the literary world since October 7. One told the JC they were was labelled a “baby killer” by a fellow writer.

The Jewish Book Council (JBC) has started to collate reports of Jew-hate.

“We encourage reports of both smaller-scale incidents (such as an individual getting review-bombed because their book includes Jewish content) and larger incidents (such as Jewish literary professionals facing threats of intimidation and violence). The hope is that, by reporting and recording antisemitism in the literary world, we can help to put support systems in place for those affected,” the JBC said in a statement online.

Elsewhere, the Royal Society of Literature (RSL) has referred itself to the Charity Commission “due to the sustained campaign of misinformation being made against it”.

Some members claimed that its annual magazine, Review, had been shelved over an article critical of Israel, a claim the society disputed. RSL members have been quietly resigning over the society’s handling of the issue.

When asked about antisemitism at the SoA, Soloman said: “I know from my own community how very concerned and threatened many Jews feel at the moment. This is a hard time to be Jewish. The SoA deplores any kind of hate speech or discrimination on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity.

“We have been disturbed by the rise in anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hate since 7 October. Comments we have seen online and elsewhere are truly shocking. We urge any member experiencing such abuse from within the publishing or creative industries to contact us, and also to contact the CST which keeps records of antisemitism.”

Speaking on behalf of the SoA, Martin Reed added: “We support the right of all authors to hold and express opinions, and we condemn violence and the threat of violence unequivocally.

“We condemn any kind of racist, hate or unprofessional speech. We have a professional code of behaviour, outlined in our dignity and respect policy and the cross-industry commitment to professional behaviour in publishing. We encourage any SoA member to make a complaint under our dignity and respect policy if they are concerned about another member’s behaviour or about behaviour in the industry.

“We do not get involved in individual debates, or in disputes between authors. We provide guidance on dealing with online abuse, harassment and bullying. We will always provide private support for authors targeted, both emotional and practical, including correspondence with publishers or other industry professionals.”

Neither Singh nor Loach responded to an email from the JC about the motion.

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