Israeli author Amos Oz yesterday received the reader's prize at the Turin International Book Fair, despite calls from Italian academics for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

The citation for the award said it was presented for his ability to transform literature into a "vital instrument of knowledge" through his work. The second- and third-place awards went, respectively, to authors Paul Auster and Carlos Fuentes.

Ahead of the book fair's opening last week, several Turin academics called a press conference at which they urged fellow academics, authors and artists to boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel "lives up to its commitments under international law."

The call sparked a lively debate in Italy, prompting author Umberto Eco to voice his opposition to the boycott.

"A manifesto circulated in Turin by the Italian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel claims that most Israeli universities, academics and intellectuals have supported and are supporting their governments ... and that Israeli universities are used for the most important weapons development research programs, centered on nanotechnology and on technological and psychological means for subjugating and controlling the civilian population," Eco wrote in L'espresso magazine last weekend. "I don't remotely agree with the policy of the Israeli government ... but I find the claim that most Israeli academics are actively supportive of their governments to be deceitful."

"I would understand," Eco continued, "if the physics department at the University of Rome or at Oxford decided not to cooperate with their colleagues in the same departments at universities in Tehran or Pyongyang if it turned out that the latter were involved in developing a nuclear bomb. But I would still find it difficult to understand why these universities should also sever ties with the departments of Korean art history or classical Persian literature."