Atwood, Ghosh, and "empty gestures"

Just a quick round-up of the controversy over the Dan David Prize–chiefly as an aide-memoire for myself. Funded by an Israeli philanthropist, the Dan David Prize was offered to Amitav Ghosh and Margaret Atwood this year for their literary achievements. Both were urged to refuse the Prize, as a way of showing solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and as a gesture of protest against Israel’s current policies.

Atwood was the first to respond:

“The Dan David Prize is a cultural item. It is not, as has been erroneously stated, an “Israeli” prize from the State of Israel, nor is it a prize “from Tel Aviv University,” but one founded and funded by an individual and his foundation, just as the Griffin Prizes in Canada are. To boycott an individual simply because of the country he or she lives in would set a very dangerous precedent.”

Antoine Raffoul and others condemned her decision, and asked her to reconsider.

Amitav responded to similar appeals:

“I do not see how it is possible to make the case that Israel is so different, so exceptional, that it requires the severing of connections with even the more liberal, more critically-minded members of that society. Is it really possible to argue that there is in that country such a unique and excessive malevolence that it contaminates every aspect of civil society, including private foundations and universities?… A boycott of Israel would not serve any tactical purpose.”

A group of Indian intellectuals wrote an open letter to Amitav Ghosh–addressed to him, but apparently not sent directly to the author, in his account–which is available over here, asking him to reconsider his acceptance of the prize.

Amitav’s latest response has been posted on Atwood’s blog. He and Atwood have both accepted the Dan David Prize, and having gone through the arguments on both sides, I think they had excellent reasons not to give into the demands for a boycott.


Having said that, I’ve been thinking about the issues involved and would like to share this set of links, sent by Dilip Simeon:

And in related news, Israel denied entry to Chomsky yesterday:





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: