Poets Pull Out of Israeli Festival in Protest at Director, Haaretz's Benny Ziffer

The move comes in the wake of a column in which the writer condoned the sexual exploitation of young women by older male artists.

Tal Nitzan, Meir Wieseltier and Noam Partom.
Tomer Appelbaum, Yael Engelhart, Daniel Tchetchik

More than 90 poets have so far announced their refusal to participate in a poetry festival in Metula because its artistic director is Haaretz columnist Benny Ziffer.

The poets are protesting Ziffer’s column in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition last Friday on singer Eyal Golan, who was investigated in 2014 on suspicion of having sex with underage girls. Golan was ultimately never charged, but his father was convicted of exploiting his son’s fame to pimp underage girls.

The protesters include such well-known names as Meir Wieseltier, Tal Nitzan, Maya Bejerano, Noam Partom and Hila Lahav.

Ziffer, who also edits Haaretz’s literature and culture supplement, wrote in his column that “Artists from Goethe to Eyal Golan are also required to feel with intensity those things that are considered the basest urges in life, like intercourse with young female admirers. Without this, there would be no creativity, for all the pain this is liable to cause these young women, whose lives might have been damaged.”

The column sparked immediate outrage on social media; it was also slammed in a Hebrew-language op-ed by Haaretz legal analyst Aeyal Gross. Several poets who had joined in the criticism on Facebook then organized an open letter announcing their refusal to participate in the festival as long as Ziffer was involved.

Benny Ziffer.
Moti Milrod

“This statement, the latest so far in a series of hurtful statements by Ziffer, crosses (another) red line, because it essentially allows the victimization of women as part of the normal order of things for ‘cultured people,’” the letter said. “This is a crude expression of rape culture in a ‘cultural’ wrapping, if not a violation of the law.”

“This message, which links creativity to permission to cause pain, is stunning in its violence,” the letter continued, “and it’s especially grave coming from the keyboard of a man with power and influence in the field of literature and culture. The thought that this person ... is directing the poetry festival in Metula is chilling.”

It therefore urged Confederation House, the organization behind the festival, to replace Ziffer.

Ziffer responded that he was asked to run the festival “because of what I am, for better and for worse. Because I cause uproars ... The organizers of this petition began their campaign against me even before my latest column; this seem more like a pretext to me.”

In fact, his appointment had generated criticism from the start, both from people who argued that he was already too powerful in the local cultural world and from those who accused him of using his literary platforms to “settle personal accounts.”

Ziffer added that “the vast majority” of the letter’s signatories “weren’t invited to the festival in any case. Perhaps if they had been invited, they wouldn’t have come out so furiously against me ... I don’t regret what I wrote, only the fact that people were hurt by it.”

In any case, he concluded, “Taking management of the festival away from me wouldn’t be a punishment for me.”

Confederation House director Effie Benaya said he disagreed with Ziffer’s column and “was even shocked” by it, but that Ziffer had done an outstanding job preparing the festival. “I’m sorry we’ve come to this,” he added, “but in the coming days, we’ll convene a meeting of the festival’s board and the Metula City Council and make a decision.”