Boycott - Reuters - May 31, 2010
A Belgian demonstrator displays a sign reading "Boycott Israel, racist state" Photo by Reuters
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Irish writer Gerard Donovan has attacked the pro-Palestinian boycott movement for trying to "bully" him to abstain from visiting Israel and take part in the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem this week. Donovan, a prominent novelist and poet, accused the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) of "outright intimidation."

Over the last few weeks, Donovan has been the focus of a campaign by pro-Palestinian activists to observe a pledge to boycott Israel, signed in 2010 by 219 Irish artists, and not to legitimize Israel's occupation of the West Bank by participating in the writers' festival. Open letters and petitions were addressed to him over the internet but Donovan, who is currently living in a cabin in New York and recovering from cancer, said in an interview with the Irish Times that he was unaware of the letters. He explained that he had cancelled his visit two months ago due to his ill health and that the activists were "idiots" for targeting him.

"If I had been well, I would have gone to Jerusalem," he told the newspaper. "It is the job of the novelists to write things people don’t want to read and to go places where other people don’t want to go. Nobody tells me where I can or cannot read my work. I’m not going to allow myself to be drawn into any political controversy for any people’s ends, I don’t care how many other writers they line up, it is completely irrelevant to me."

Last week, two Irish bands cancelled concerts in Israel due to pressure from the boycott movement. Cathy Jordan, the leader of Dervish, one of the bands, apologized for the cancellation saying that I wasn’t quite prepared for the extent of the venom directed at us." Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter accused the activists of "cyberbullying."

Israeli diplomats have said recently that "Ireland has become one of the top three countries in Europe in the terms of anti-Israel hostility. Any Irish group that travels to Israel is subject to an avalanche of hatred and it is almost impossible to organize Israeli cultural events here."

When Donovan cancelled his visit two months ago, after initially confirming his arrival and his name appearing on the original festival program, some of the organizers were concerned that he had done so as a result of boycott pressures.

Uri Dromi, the manger of Mishkenot Sha'ananim that hosts the festival said that "there is an increasing feeling of cultural siege and despite our success in attracting major writers, some of them, particularly from Britain, have come under huge pressure not to participate." He said that he had tried to invite South African writer and Nobel Prize laureate J. M. Coetzee "but he told me that he would come when the peace process goes forward."

Dromi said that two British writers at the festival, Tom Rob Smith and Tracy Chevalier had been subjected to a major dose of online pressure and abuse for travelling to Israel. Rob Smith, whose first novel, Child 44, was a publishing sensation, told Dromi that he was very surprised by the attacks on his Facebook page but came anyway. Chevalier, author of bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, who has been to Israel before, asked Dromi if he could organize a meeting between her and Palestinian readers. "I tried to set up something in Ramallah and when that didn't work, I enquired at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem but neither place was interested in cooperating with us."

Israel's ambassador in Dublin, Boaz Modai, said in response to the recent attempts at boycotting Israel that "I can't say Ireland is hostile to Israel, but there are pockets of hostility, that sometimes veer into anti-Semitism, by pro-Palestinian elements that sabotage our relations. The fact that the Jewish community here is very small and that Israel has very few committed friends here also works against us."