Opinion

David Grossman, Don’t Accept the Israel Prize

Do us a favor, Grossman, and don’t accept the Israel Prize from those people

David Grossman reacting after winning an award in 2010. On Wednesday he won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for "A Horse Walks Into a Bar."
Thomas Lohnes/AP

I’m worried. Will David Grossman shake Benjamin Netanyahu’s hand and allow him to whisper, “I’m a big fan, I read ‘To the End of the Land’ and I cried, Sara cried too”?

Many years ago I represented Moshe Gershuni, whose wonderful exhibition is now on display at the Noemi Givon Gallery in Tel Aviv (flashing warning light: concealed advertising), curated by his three children, Uri, Aram and Atar, of the works from his estate. He refused to shake Ariel Sharon’s hand. I tried to persuade him: What do you care, there’s money in it, afterward you’ll wash your mouth and your hand with the Herbal Elixir de la Grande-Chartreuse, 71 percent alcohol, as expensive as liquid gold, which you’ll buy with the prize money.

I won’t do it, he said. I won’t. I’ll skin the carcass of an animal in the market slaughtered against Jewish law, and I won’t accept the prize from that man of blood, he said, giving fresh meaning to the Talmudic phrase and turning down the Israel Prize. I filed a petition to the High Court of Justice, which was of course rejected. In return, I was given the gift of a painting, “Her Soul Has Departed,” which I associate with the death of Israeli art critic Sarah Chinski: an incomplete circle on a thick line, like a failed calligraphy exercise to paint a perfect circle.

I look at the painting and understand completely why Gershuni refused to accept the prize. Come to the exhibition, David Grossman and you’ll also understand that you cannot place your hand in the hand where James Packer’s hand rested, and that was grasped by Donald Trump’s sausage-like fingers. You’ve skinned many a dead animal in the market, Grossman, and displayed them naked and shivering, so you couldn’t care less about one more. Arrive on time, and if you’re late I’ll ask Noemi to leave the gallery open for you, even at night, and you can walk around alone in the deserted rooms, or Aram Gershuni will agree to take you around.

Gershuni asked why the prime minister is giving out the Israel Prize for Art, why not an artist like him, or perhaps his wife, the artist Bianca Eshel-Gershuni, and informed the prize committee that he would not shake Sharon’s hand. Education Minister Limor Livnat took the prize from him and said – no handshake, no money.

Imagine that you’re Bruno Schulz, who is close to your heart. A sweaty postman comes to your father’s textile shop, and hands you a notice in an envelope that you’ve won the Municipality of Drohobycz Prize, and you have to shake the hand of the person who would be the German officer who would kill you in five years in the Drohobycz ghetto. Would you do it?

Or would you “heed the soft sigh of the black forests, the opaque chords that churn the spaces beyond the range of hearing” (from “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass.” Ding ding, another concealed advertisement), that say, Don’t be a whore, Grossman, people who love your books don’t deserve it nor do the people who heard you on the 11th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, 12 years ago: “In the bosom of the earth, in the land of Israel, again and again we bury our young, at their peak of blooming. The death of young people is a horrible, shattering waste. But no less horrible is the sense that for many years, the State of Israel has been squandering not only the lives of its sons, but also its miracle; that grand and rare opportunity that history bestowed upon it, the opportunity to establish here a state that is enlightened, fair, democratic, that abides by Jewish and universal values; a state that would be a national home and haven, but not only a haven – a place, too, that would offer a new meaning to Jewish existence; a state that holds as an important, essential part of its Jewish identity, of its Jewish ethos, the ensuring of full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens.”

And since then, it has only grown worse and worse and those whose hands you shake, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, are the ones who decided to expel some 40,000 Africans, under whose feet the ground is burning, whom the Vulture of Culture Miri Regev, who would certainly not miss the chance to shake your hand, said were a cancer in the body of the nation, people who fled from an Africa that had been robbed by enlightened Europeans. I don’t doubt that the Holocaust cannot be understood without understanding Africa, the slavery and the robbery, and I haven’t forgotten the genocide in Rwanda with weapons purchased from Israeli merchants of death.

If you give up the prize, I’ll offer you, seriously, a respectable seat in Courtroom C at the Supreme Court, where next month you’ll hear the petition by Itay Mack and myself, in my name, in the name of Jewish compassion and in the name of my father who was saved in 1945 by a black American soldier whose grandfather or great-grandfather was certainly a slave, and if they had been expelled from the United States there would have been no one to save my father, a “Muselmann” lying on a wooden bunk wearing a torn, striped coat. The black soldier carried him on his shoulders and gave him sweetened milk to drink, which of course he vomited immediately, but he recovered and grew tan and even grew a tough guy’s mustache in an Italian training camp.

A good seat in Courtroom C of the Supreme Court is worth a lot more than a prize from Netanyahu, Bennett and Regev, which is a measly 75,000 shekels that I can collect on Headstart in a week. So do us a favor, Grossman, and don’t accept the Israel Prize from those people.