There was a stir at a conference of Mediterranean writers in Marseilles yesterday when Israeli author Moshe Sakal was booted from a panel discussion at the request of Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish.
The director of the conference, French-Jewish author Pierre Assouline, said Sakal's participation in the panel, which was on the Arab Spring, "was not crucial."
Speaking by phone from Marseilles, Assouline told Haaretz that in the previous two years the conference had been held, Palestinian writers had refused to come because there were Israeli participants.
This year, Darwish said he had no problem with Israeli participants, so long as he would not have to sit with any of them at the same roundtable discussion.
Assouline said that when he explained to the audience before the discussion about the Palestinian's refusal to sit with Sakal, "half of the crowd got very angry, and the other half was thrilled."
Sakal, who entered the hall after the discussion had begun so he could listen to it, was somewhat surprised when his entrance caused a stir.
"I entered the hall just as [Moroccan poet] Tahar Ben Jelloun was speaking forcefully against this type of boycott," Sakal said. "He said that there are many Israeli authors who are supportive [of the Palestinian cause] and one should speak to them even if one doesn't approve of current Israeli politics."
"There were hundreds of people there and there were a lot of hecklers," Sakal said. "People were very upset."
Darwish, said Sakal, accused him of expelling him from his home, and said "the Jewish-Arabs [Jews from Arab lands] particularly hate the Palestinians."
Sakal, who is of Syrian and Egyptian origin, said he told the crowd "I understand them but I also understand my situation, and the one thing that distressed me was that he didn't try to find out who I am or what my views are."