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France Insider | March 14, 2008

The one-sided debate

I begin this morning incredibly disillusioned. For the past two days, France Culture’s morning radio program, the mix of commentary and news to which I’ve been addicted since August, has conducted a charade of a debate on the call by some to boycott this year’s Salon du Livre because Israel is the guest of honor. Yesterday, which also marked the opening of the salon by Israeli president Shimon Peres — demolishing, as I wrote previously, the argument of the anti-boycott forces that this event is apart from politics — the program featured a Palestinian scholar, Sari Nusselbeh, whose point of view on the question is milktoasty at best. Asked if he supported the boycott, he demurred from offering an opinion, saying only that the question could have been avoided if France had not invited Israel in the first place.

Having thus offered neutral instead of ‘yes on the boycott’ yesterday, the program today piled on the boycott supporters — *with no one* standing in to speak in its favor. It was almost parenthetically that the host delivered the startling news that a prominent Israeli literary figure, Benny Zephir the ltierary editor of Ha’Aretz, supported the boycott because for this supposedly non-political event, the Israeli government had declared that only Israelis writing in Hebrew would be considered. Arabs or at least Arabic writers — never mind if they’re Isaeli citizens — need not apply; so much for the much-vaunted sole democracy in the Middle East. But the program went further than simply excluding the Other’s point of view; they misrepresented it: Peres was quoted as opening the salon with the warning that ‘book-burning’ is a threat to liberty. I’ve been following the boycott campaign pretty closely; who’s talking about book-burning? The hypocritical sanctimony continued to mount through the end of the program, with the featured Israeli author, David Grossman warning that the boycott will just lead to catastrophe because one must have dialog. How can one preach dialog in an echo chamber?

If you sense my bitterness, it’s because, if there’s been one raison d’etre of this journal it’s been to demonstrate, or at least reflect on, the differences in the American and French way of seeing things. How disappointing to discover that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian question, not all sides are equal.

Posted on 15-03-2008

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