Authors Criticize PEN American Center for Israel Gov’t Sponsorship


All is not well in the literary world.

That could be true at any moment of any day, sure, but this week has been especially tumultuous. Maybe that’s not accurate, either, because the letter that’s causing headlines (like this one!) was actually sent in March, though it’s only just now been made available to the public.

The letter in question was sent to the PEN American Center by more than 100 writers, including Junot Díaz, Eileen Myles, Molly Crabapple, Deborah Eisenberg, and Geoff Dyer. The cause? PEN’s decision to allow the Israeli government to sponsor its upcoming PEN World Voices Festival.

In the letter, which was officially sent by Adalah-NY, The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, the authors wrote, “It is deeply regrettable that the festival has chosen to accept sponsorship from the Israeli government, even as it intensifies its decades-long denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people, including the frequent targeting of Palestinian writers and journalists.” The full letter can be found here, and it’s worth reading, especially if you need any kind of assurance that these writers aren’t being rash. The cause for sending the letter reaches a new level of profundity, too, upon noticing that it was also signed by Palestinian writer Ahmad Qatamesh, who was punished by the Israeli government twice, first in 1992 and then in 2011.

For its part, the center responded in an email, written by author Colm Tóibín, that mostly just alluded to its official policy, adopted in 2007, that states that they won’t participate in cultural boycotts of any kind.

This is the second year in the row that the PEN American Center faces scandal. In 2015, the center found controversy when it awarded Charlie Hebdo with its Freedom of Expression Courage Award.

For more reporting on this latest scandal, head to The Guardian.