Arab Council Cancels Award After Intended Recipient Visits Jerusalem

Boualem Sansal, who writes in French, was due to receive the prize for his novel, 'Rue Darwin,' on June 6 at the Arab World Institute in Paris.

Maya Sela
Maya Sela
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Maya Sela
Maya Sela

The Council of Arab Ambassadors in France revoked its decision to award Algerian writer Boualem Sansal a prize for best Arab novel, shortly after Sansal took part in the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem last month.

Sansal, who writes in French, was due to receive the prize for his novel, "Rue Darwin," on June 6 at the Arab World Institute in Paris.

But the French media have been reporting over the last few days that the council decided to call off the award ceremony and ask the judges to reconvene.

One of the judges announced following the decision that he was quitting.

"I resign from the prize council, which shamefully decided to revoke the judges' selection, and I invite my colleagues to act likewise and to create a different framework for the prize, to honor the work of Boualem Sansal, an Algerian author, a free person and a big believer in face-to-face conversations," Olivier Poivre d'Arvor wrote in the French newspaper Liberation.

Poivre d'Arvor, who heads the state-funded radio station France Culture and has served on the prize committee since 2008, said the decision was made shortly after Sansal - who has been widely criticized in the Arab world for drawing a connection between Islamic fundamentalism and Nazism - took part in the Israeli festival.

"The prize judges received a strange e-mail message cancelling the prize date 'due to current events in the Arab world,'" d'Arvor wrote. "The e-mail proposed that the judges reconvene on June 12 for a meeting headed by the Jordanian and Arab League ambassadors to Paris."

The Jordanian ambassador, who heads the Council of Arab Ambassadors in France, had been scheduled to hand Sansal the award, along with the director of the Arab World Institute.

"Behind all this was hiding a shameful baseness," wrote d'Arvor. "During the time between selecting the prize winners and granting the prize, Boualem Sansal took part in the Jerusalem festival. Hamas, for its part, immediately released an official statement condemning the visit as an act of betrayal against the Palestinians, hence the reaction of the Council of Arab Ambassadors in France."

In an interview with Haaretz while he was in Israel for the writers festival, Sansal said he was unfazed by the antagonistic reaction to his decision to take part.

"If I had to be afraid of everybody who's crazy or sick, or of what they say, I wouldn't be able to do anything," he said. "I would stay at home, and I certainly wouldn't be writing."

Sansal at the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem last month.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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