Cultural Center Denies Plan to Vet Authors' Speeches at International Writers Festival

Festival staff fight off efforts by pro-Palestinian organizations to persuade foreign invitees to boycott Jerusalem-based festival.

One day after the director of the International Writers Festival announced that the authors opening the event would have to show their speeches to the festival's management in advance, her boss denied Tuesday that any such requirement existed.

"I want to make it clear that we have not asked any author coming to the Third International Writers Festival to show us the text of his speech, nor do we intend to do so," said Uri Dromi, director of the Mishkenot Sha'ananim cultural center, in a press statment. "The complete freedom of expression that reigns at the festival is our pride."

Dromi sent a similar statement, in English, to all the foreign authors planning to attend the festival, which opens on May 13 at Mishkenot Sha'ananim in Jerusalem.

As Haaretz reported on Tuesday, festival director Tal Kremer said on Monday that management would ask to see the speeches in advance in an effort to avoid a repeat of Nir Baram's opening speech at the festival two years ago. Baram's highly political speech upset many members of the audience.

Baram - Salman - 1.5.12
Emil Salman

Meanwhile, several of the foreign authors who are planning to attend have asked Dromi to arrange meetings for them with leading Palestinian cultural figures. Tracy Chevalier ("The Girl With a Pearl Earring" ), for instance, has asked Dromi to set up meetings for her in Ramallah, while Aleksandar Hemon ("The Lazarus Project" and "The Question of Bruno" ) asked to tour East Jerusalem and meet with Palestinians there. Dromi said on Tuesday that he is trying to arrange the requested meetings.

The festival staff has also been busy for several weeks now trying to fight off efforts by pro-Palestinian organizations to persuade foreign invitees to boycott the event. But at least one author who has canceled did not do so because of the boycott: Howard Jacobson, the British Jew who won the prestigious Man Booker Prize last year. Jacobson said he has been forced to cancel due to poor health, but stressed, as he has many times in the past, that he adamantly opposes any form of boycott.

"I think intellectuals always have an obligation to debate and to keep the lines of communication open," he told Haaretz on Tuesday. "No matter how angry you are at a country, or how much you want it to change, you don't close off the possibility for change."

That is precisely what cultural boycotts do, he said, because "the people you are boycotting are the people who will effect change. When you boycott an author or a literary festival, you boycott the voices of reason."