Lebanese Author Shuns Israeli Sponsorship
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The Lebanese author and NYU professor Elias Khoury withdrew from a dialogue with the Israeli writer David Grossman scheduled as part of PEN World Voices last Sunday at the Center for Jewish History. From the stage at an earlier event, Mr. Khoury said he has made it a policy “to avoid engaging in activities that take place under the aegis of any government authority.”
According to the executive director of PEN American Center, Michael Roberts, Mr. Khoury informed the organization he had learned that the Cultural Department of the Consulate General of Israel was included as a co-sponsor of the dialogue in the program booklet. Various consulates and government affiliates were patrons and benefactors of the festival, such as the Austrian Consulate in New York, the Consulate General of Sweden, and the German Book Office.
“If Khoury is that concerned about Jewish money,” the literary critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer and critic-at-large for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Carlin Romano, said, “he might think about resigning his NYU professorship. His host institution doesn’t exactly live off Saudi petrol dollars.”
The Egyptian-born author Andre Aciman, who is a professor of comparative literature at the CUNY Graduate Center, said, “That Mr. Khoury chose to cancel a conversation with Mr. Grossman because the word ‘Israel’ appears next to the event goes against the character, purpose, and spirit of the PEN week.”
As a result of Mr. Khoury’s decision, Mr. Aciman withdrew as scheduled moderator of a panel discussion, “Dual Citizenship,” at New York University on Sunday. Mr. Khoury, among others, was scheduled to participate.
“I was under the impression that the PEN event was cast in the spirit of the Olympic Games,” where differences among nations are set aside, Mr. Aciman wrote in a letter members of the panel. “If men of letters can’t have a dialogue, who will? But this reasoning, it seems, does not apply when the country in question is Israel.”
Mr. Aciman criticized PEN for “not criticizing Mr. Khoury’s position or by not distancing itself” from his decision. “PEN is in essence condoning what amounts to yet another branding of Israel as a pariah among nations,” he wrote.
In a reply to Mr. Aciman, Mr. Roberts wrote, “While we [PEN] made every effort to persuade Mr. Khoury to participate, we believe authors must be at liberty to decide under whose auspices they choose to appear, even when we may disagree with their decisions.” Mr. Roberts added that the organization was proud that this year’s festival included three Israeli authors in ten programs.
The writer Jonathan Levi filled in for Mr. Khoury on the Sunday program, which was originally called “A Dialogue on Literature and Peace: Elias Khoury & David Grossman.”
Mr. Khoury was born into a Christian family in Beirut and was a founder of the journal al-Karmel. Mr. Grossman is the author of the novel “Yellow Wind,” about Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Mr. Romano, who attended the Sunday event featuring Messrs. Grossman and Levi, summed it up this way: “It ended up unicultural instead of multicultural, more like Salman Rushdie’s talk with Amartya Sen, but since panels like the Howl Fest were so multi-cultural you needed a scorecard and left with a headache, I found it kind of soothing.”