Israeli Writers' Festival to Prescreen Speeches in Bid to Ban Political Content

Opening speakers must show their speeches to management in advance - in an effort to avoid a repeat of a 2010 speech that criticized Israel.

When the director of the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem wants to convince international authors to attend the festival despite pressure to boycott it, she often trots out the fact that an opening speaker in 2010 criticized Israel in his comments. But now the festival is instituting a new requirement: Opening speakers must show their speeches to management in advance - in an effort to avoid another speech like that one.

In his widely denounced comments, Israeli novelist Nir Baram wondered aloud whether it was possible to speak about literature without discussing the social and political conditions in which it was written, then added, "Under cover of the victim's cloak that history has admittedly sewn for us Jews, we are witness to the systematic violation of the rights of non-Jews in the State of Israel and the occupied territories." What Israel needs, he continued, is "a frank and pointed dialogue. Perhaps a sympathetic but critical look from abroad can illuminate the hollows hidden from our eyes."

Emil Salman

Festival director Tal Kremer said on Monday that "in light of what happened with Nir Baram, we asked this year's authors to give us the text of their speeches."

Baram's speech "was a production error on our part, even though I don't think my job is to put up barriers and engage in censorship," she said. "In the end, his speech did no harm."

She said she often uses it to convince authors who are being pressured by pro-Palestinian groups to boycott the festival that they would do more good by coming. But asked what she would have done if she had seen Baram's speech in advance, Kremer replied that she "might have tried to convince him" to change it.

This year's festival will open on May 13 at Mishkenot Sha'ananim in Jerusalem, with the opening speeches, as always, being given by one Israeli and one foreign author - in this case, Zeruya Shalev and Hungarian writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai. The foreign guests will also include Algerian author Boualem Sansal, whose decision to attend aroused the ire of Hamas.

Last week, Hamas issued a statement saying it viewed Sansal's willingness to participate in the festival as "a crime against the 1.5 million Algerian martyrs who sacrificed their lives for freedom in Algeria under the French occupation," as well as "a crime against the Palestinian people," since his presence will grant legitimacy to "crimes being perpetrated against the Palestinian people."

Sansal's books, which are best sellers in Europe but banned in his homeland, include "The German Mujahid," in which he harshly criticizes radical Islam and links it to Nazism.