France to Fête Israeli Author Yoram Kaniuk

The renowned and at times controversial author will be named an Officer in France's Order of Arts and Letters this fall.

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Renowned and at times controversial Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk will be named an Officer in France's Order of Arts and Letters during a ceremony this fall that is due to coincide with the publication of his novel "1948" in French, English, Spanish and German.

The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres is one of the most prestigious honors awarded by the French government. Kaniuk was awarded the Sapir Prize for literature in 2011 for the book, which focuses on the period of Israel's War of Independence. It was a best-seller in Israel, with more than 80,000 copies sold, and has been adapted for the stage by the Haifa Theater. An Italian translation of the novel was released earlier this year, also to critical acclaim.

Kaniuk has garnered headlines in recent months for his contentious views on issues ranging from the market price of newly published books to whether he must be listed as "Jewish" in his passport.

Last month, the now 82-year-old author urged leading authors not to sell their books at discount prices during the countries 51st annual Hebrew Book Week.

The writers demanded that their publishing houses not permit their books to be included in big sales, because, they said, "We can no longer participate in the humiliation of our works in particular and Hebrew literature in general."

Along with Kaniuk, those who spoke out against the discounted prices at Book Week and at leading chain stores like Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim were David Grossman, Haim Be'er, Ronit Matalon, Amos Oz, Eli Amir, Orly Castel-Bloom, Judith Katzir, Meir Shalev and Zeruya Shalev.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation earlier this month approved a bill aimed at protecting the income of local authors by limiting book sales and establishing a minimum-royalty standard.

The legislation, drafted by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, stipulates that books cannot be sold for less than their list price for the first 18 months after publication. It also sets minimum royalties to be paid to authors during that period: eight percent on the first 6,000 copies sold and 10 percent on each additional copy.

The committee's approval, in a 13-3 vote, means the bill goes to the Knesset with government backing.

Last year Kaniuk took on another behemoth -- the Interior Ministry – when he petitioned a Tel Aviv court to order the ministry to allow him "to be liberated from the Jewish religion" by changing his "religion" entry in the Population Registry from "Jewish" to "without religion." The ministry had refused a previous request.

In his petition, Kaniuk explained that he had no wish to be part of a "Jewish Iran" or to belong to "what is today called the religion of Israel."

"This is a ruling of historic proportions," Kaniuk told Haaretz in October. "The court granted legitimacy to every person to live by their conscience in this land, in ruling that human dignity and freedom means a person can determine their own identity and definition. In this way I can be without religion but Jewish by nationality. I am so thrilled," Kaniuk said.

Kaniuk said the request reflected his ongoing disgust with the way that the Jewish religion has rejected principles enshrined in Israel's Declaration of Independence.

France plans to bestow one of its highest honors on Israeli author Yoram KaniukCredit: Daniel Tchetchik

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