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PACBI-Edinburgh Book Festival accused of 'political illiteracy' over historian

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The Times | June 20, 2008

Edinburgh Book Festival accused of 'political illiteracy' over historian

The organisers of the Edinburgh International Book Festival have been accused of "political illiteracy" for marking Israel's 60th anniversary with what is billed as a "special and powerful event" focusing on the enforced exodus of Palestinians in 1948.

The opening day session will feature Ilan Papp, an historian once dubbed "the most hated Israeli in Israel", who is scheduled to discuss his project Nakba: Return of the Soul. Nakba means catastrophe and is the word used by Palestinians to summarise the founding of Israel in 1948.

In an article published last month, Dr Papp accused the Zionist movement of ethnic cleansing in Palestine and linked its policies with the Holocaust. "Europe's guilt at allowing Nazi Germany to exterminate the Jews of Europe was to be cured by the dispossession of the Palestinians," he wrote.

These views, and the programming of events in Edinburgh, have infuriated some.

"The organisers are politically illiterate," said Colin Shindler, reader in Israeli and Modern Jewish Studies at London University. "The unsaid agenda is not to recall the Palestinian Nakba - a legitimate subject for discussion - but to underline the fact that the Jews really do not have a right to national self-determination in Israel. The festival's 'outrage' is selective and they do a disservice to intellectual debate in this country,"

Geraldine D'Amico, the director of Jewish Book Week, told the Jewish Chronicle that Catherine Lockerbie, the director of the Edinburgh book festival, was "a friend and a role model" who had rejected calls for a boycott of Israeli speakers in 2006.

However, she added that she was "saddened" that "in 2008 the only recognition of Israel's 60 years of existence is a talk on the Nakba, with no-one to make the case for Israel".

The festival event, billed as a "major examination of the Middle East", features Dr Papp alongside Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian writer, and the artist Jane Frere. Ms Frere's work, which is being shown at the Patriot Hall gallery, is drawn from her experience in refugee camps, where she has spent most of the past nine months.

Ms Lockerbie said she was proud of the Edinburgh festival's reputation for provoking discussion, and said the event was "passionately committed" to exploring all sides of world affairs. In recent years Edinburgh had hosted some of most distinguished Israeli writers, including Amos Oz and David Grossman.

"It is not always necessary or desirable to balance out viewpoints, in a potentially tokenistic way, within a single hour-long event. Sometimes it is more potent and advantageous to do this through the arc of a whole festival, or even across several festivals," said Ms Lockerbie.

"We have powerfully represented Jewish and Israeli voices throughout recent festivals. In this one event, tied specifically in to an exhibition taking place in Edinburgh during festival time, the panellists put forward the viewpoint of Palestinian families required to leave their homes 60 years ago. We also actively seek, and present, the views of writers who survived the Second World War and the Holocaust - the fundamental reason for the founding of Israel."

Ms Frere's work is drawn from camps in the Lebanon, the West Bank and Jordan, She said that it did not take a political stance and was "very humanitarian and deeply spiritual".

Posted on 22-06-2008

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