Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nadine Gordimer and Israel's 60th Anniversary Celebrations

There is very little that can be said to add to the eloquence of Dr. Haidar Eid's appeal to Nadine Gordimer not to participate in "Israel at 60" celebrations. He reviews her anti-apartheid, anti-racist credentials and calls attention to other prominent South Africans, such as Archbishop Tutu, who have condemned Israel's occupation and compared it, not favorably, to apartheid. He recalls Israel's sordid history with the South African apartheid regime, and her friendship with Edward Said. By the time I was done reading the letter, I couldn't imagine what had possessed her to agree to come in the first place.

The letter also subtly reminds us that Gaza is not simply war-torn and beaten down, but still a place where dedicated teachers teach and students study. It is unfortunate but true that we need this reminder.

The second article suggests that the pressure may be working, and that Ms. Gordimer is considering pulling out of her appearance in Israel next month. If this should occur, it would certainly be a boon to the boycott Israel movement. Israel's 60th anniversary, similarly to China's Summer Olympics, may turn out to be a more effective tool for protests than a celebration of Israel's 60 years.

--Rebecca Vilkomerson, Guest Editor for JPN


Nadine Gordimer on her decision to participate in "Israel at 60 Celebrations"
April 24, 2008 By Dr. Haidar Eid
Dear Ms. Gordimer,

I am a Palestinian lecturer in Cultural Studies living in Gaza. I happen to also have South African citizenship as a result of my marriage to a citizen of that beloved country. I spent more than five years in Johannesburg, the city in which I earned my Ph.D and lectured at both traditionally black and white universities. At Vista in Soweto, I taught your anti-apartheid novels My Son's Story, July's People and The Late Bourgeois World. I have been teaching the same novels, in addition to The Pick Up and Selected Stories, to my Palestinian students in Gaza at Al-Aqsa University. This course is called "Resistance, Anti-Racism and Xenophobia". I deliberately chose to teach your novels because, as an anti-apartheid writer, you defied racial stereotypes by calling for resistance against all forms of oppression, be they racial or religious. Your support of sanctions against apartheid South Africa has, to say the least, impressed my Gazan students.

The news of your conscious decision to take part in the "Israel at 60" celebrations has reached us, students and citizens of Gaza, as both a painful surprise, and a glaring example of a hypocritical intellectual double standard. My students, psychologically and emotionally traumatized and already showing early signs of malnutrition as a result of the genocidal policy of the country whose birth you intend celebrating, demand an explanation.

They wonder in amazement that you might have missed Archbishop Tutu's contention that conditions in Israeli-occupied Palestine are worse than those under apartheid? They ask how you can ignore John Dugard's dispassionate and insightful report on the dismal state of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories? Surely, you have not been unaware of Ronnie Kasrils' writings following his latest visit to Gaza and the West Bank? Like you, these three men, all South Africans, were also active in the fight against racism and apartheid. Dugard's words on Palestine are very significant: "I certainly have a sense of déjà vu... The sad thing is that Israel is unwilling to learn from the South African precedent." In an article titled, "Israelis adopt what South Africa dropped," Dugard observed that the human rights situation in the occupied territories continues to deteriorate and called the conditions "intolerable, appalling, and tragic for ordinary Palestinians." Significantly, Dugard made
shocking parallels between the situation in the Palestine and your country South Africa under apartheid: "Many aspects of Israel's occupation surpass those of the apartheid regime. Israel's large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa." Moreover, in its final declaration, the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) NGO forum, held in Durban in 2001, stated that: "We declare Israel as a racist, apartheid state in which Israel's brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispossession, restricted land access, denationalization, 'bantustanization' and inhumane acts."

You are no doubt aware of Israel's deep ties with apartheid South Africa, during which Israel, breaking the international embargo, supplied South Africa with hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons. Apartheid South Africa relied on apartheid Israel to persuade Western governments to lift the embargo. How did you relate to Israel during that period and what was your position regarding countries and individuals that did not support the policy of isolating apartheid South Africa? You were surely critical of the infamous policy of 'constructive engagement' led by Thatcher and Reagan at the height of the struggle in the 80s? And today, inexplicably, you have joined the ranks of sanctions busters.

The eminent Palestinian, Edward Said, who gave you his friendship, would have been dismayed by your decision. He named you as a model for what he called, "oppositional intellectuals." It was his strong belief that, with regard to Israel, "[i]t only takes a few bold spirits to speak out and start challenging a status quo that gets worse and more dissembling each day." Little did he know that you would fail the oppressed in Palestine.

My cold and hungry students have divided themselves into two groups, with one group adamant that you, like many of your courageous characters, will reconsider your participation in an Israeli Festival that aims to celebrate the annihilation of Palestine and Palestinians. The other group believes that you have already crossed over to the side of the oppressor, negating every word you have ever written. We all wait for your next action.

Dr. Haidar Eid
Gaza, Palestine

Dr. Haidar Eid is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza Strip, Palestine.


w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Facing widespread pressure, Nadine Gordimer may pull out of Israel writers meet

By David B. Green, Haaretz Correspondent

South African writer Nadine Gordimer may pull out of her appearance next month at Jerusalem's International Writers Festival in the face of a widespread campaign pressuring her to cancel.

The 84-year-old Gordimer, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, is scheduled to make three appearances at the festival, which runs at Mishkenot Sha'ananim May 11-15.

Other writers slated to attend include Americans Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer and Russell Banks, as well as Israelis David Grossman and Amos Oz, the latter of whom is scheduled to share the stage with Gordimer on May 12.

"I am dealing with the issue now," Gordimer told Haaretz in a telephone conversation from her home in Johannesburg on Friday. She refused to comment further on the controversy, except to say she would soon make a public statement on her decision.

Gordimer has received dozens of appeals, many of them posted on-line, calling on her to join a cultural boycott of Israel.

Gordimer, who is Jewish, has long been identified with left-wing causes, including her longtime backing of the African National Congress dating back to the apartheid period, when the black liberation movement was outlawed. In 2001, she publicly urged her friend Susan Sontag not to come to Jerusalem, where the late American writer was to be honored with the Jerusalem Prize at the capital's biennial international book fair. Sontag did come in the end, and received the literary award in person.

Now it is Gordimer who is being pressed to stay away from Israel. For example an open letter earlier this month signed by British professors Hilary and Steven Rose, who have led the Jewish lobby in the U.K. campaigning for a boycott of Israeli academia, implored her not to "give the Israeli establishment, the Israeli press, the whole Israeli PR machine, the prize they want - your apparent condoning of their policies."

Yael Nahari, the director of the Jerusalem's International Writers Festival, told Haaretz that, following a request from Gordimer, she is trying to arrange for the South African writer to "meet the other side [Palestinians]," including students at al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Nahari was optimistic that Gordimer will go ahead with her planned appearance at the five-day meet. "I think she'll come," she said.

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