Brooklyn Book Festival Participants Sign Petition Denouncing Israeli Government Funding

Rain falls at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival (photo by Haruko16/Flickr)

In response to the Israeli consulate’s sponsorship of a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Adalah-NY has released an open letter and petition denouncing the funding as a violation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Released earlier this afternoon, the petition has gathered around 300 signatories as of press time, among them 18 past and present Brooklyn Book Festival participants, including editors at Verso and Haymarket Books, and authors including Sarah Schulman and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts; New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones has also signed.

Slated for Sunday evening, the panel in question, “A Sense of Place: Writing from Within and Without,” is to be moderated by Salon editor-in-chief Dave Daley and features authors Joseph O’Neill, Amit Chaudhuri, and Assaf Gavron. The festival website notes that the panel has the “support of Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in New York.”

Petition organizers told Hyperallergic that they raised the issue with an administrator of the Brooklyn Book Festival earlier this week, who reportedly said that it was “too late to do anything about it.” (They declined to name the administrator.) Grounded in the recent “50-day assault on the Gaza strip,” the missive calls on “the organizers of the Brooklyn Book Festival to refuse the sponsorship of the Israeli embassy or any complicit Israeli institution in the future.”

“We are not targeting Israeli authors here; we are targeting the Israeli government backing these authors,” initial petition signatory Phan Nguyen of Verso said in a telephone interview with Hyperallergic. “It’s worth noting that the Israeli government sees culture as a way to [get the world to] look beyond the conflict,” he added, citing a contract leaked by Israeli author Yitzhak Laor in Ha’aretz that places diplomatic stipulations on the receipt of government funding by cultural workers.

The petition’s text also refers to the historical South African cultural boycott‘s “crucial role in bringing down apartheid,” echoing the language frequently used by proponents of the BDS movement, which seeks to enforce a similar cultural boycott of the state of Israel called for by 171 Palestinian civil society groups in 2005.

In the last year, funding structures of major cultural events have fallen under increasing political scrutiny by participants, with pressure exerted on the São Paulo BiennialCreative Time, the Sydney Biennial, Manifesta in St. Petersburg, and the Angoulême International Comics Festival, among others.

The Brooklyn Book Festival and Dave Daley did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Update, 9/20 4:17pm EDT: The writers Junot Diaz, Ahdaf Soueif, Elliot Weinberger, and Kamila Shamsie have signed on to the petition.

Update 2, 9/21 12:27pm EDT: Panelist Amit Chaudhuri, a novelist and academic, has signed on to the letter. He intends to participate in the panel.

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