Nadine Gordimer Defends Decision to Attend J'lem Writers Conference

Nobel winner said her visit should not cast doubt on her 'solidarity with the struggle against apartheid.'

South African writer Nadine Gordimer on Tuesday defended her decision to attend a writers conference in Israel next month, saying that her "comrades" should have no doubts about her "solidarity with the struggle - our struggle - against apartheid."

Gordimer noted that her invitation came not from the Israeli government but from Mishkenot Sha'ananim. About 15 foreign and 40 Israeli writers are expected to attend the mid-May five-day gathering.

The 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature laureate had been under enormous pressure at home and abroad to boycott the conference. Last weekend she said she decided to attend after arranging to meet with Palestinians as well as Israelis.

Her remarks Tuesday came in a statement she released from her Johannesburg home. Gordimer, a longtime supporter of the African National Congress and an outspoken critic of Israeli policies, suggested that the purpose of the festival "is to assert vitally that whatever violent, terrible, bitter and urgent chasms of conflict lie between peoples, the only solutions for peace and justice exist and must begin with both sides talking to one another."

Acknowledging that Hamas denies "the right of Israel to exist," Gordimer nonetheless said it must be part of the solution. She urged the Palestinian Islamist movement not to forget "that Nelson Mandela went, was escorted from and returned to Pollsmore Prison, for a face-to-face meeting with apartheid president P.W. Botha."

She reminded those urging her to boycott the festival of her endorsements of Ronnie Kasrils' 'Not in our name'" statement. The December 2001 letter by the Jewish cabinet minister and former ANC rebel was signed by "South Africans of Jewish descent." It said "the root cause" of the second intifada was Israel's occupation of the territories and urged Israel to renew negotiations with the Palestinians.

Gordimer's letter noted that she will visit Ramallah and meet in Jerusalem with students at the Palestinian Al-Quds University. She ended it by stating, "I shall do my utmost to uphold the principles and practice I have held, and still hold, at home in our country."