Chickening Out

Kamila Shamsie, one of my favourite novelists, has been awarded the Nelly Sachs prize - and then had it withdrawn. The reason is that she’s expressed support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel. Explaining their decision, the judges say “This contrasts with the claim of the Nelly Sachs prize to proclaim and exemplify reconciliation among peoples and cultures.”

Back in May, the German parliament labelled the BDS movement as anti-semitic, “reiminiscent of the most terrible chapter in German history.” Their decision was criticised by 60 Jewish and Israeli academics, seeing it a part of a trend. There’s certainly a rise in anti-semitism, but there’s also a massive push by the Jewish lobby to label any opposition to Israeli policies as intrinsically anti—semitic. In her defence, Shamsie refers to Netanyahu’s annexation plans (see my post of Sept 12), and states that “the jury has chosen to withdraw the award from me on the basis of my support for a non-violent campaign to bring pressure on the Israeli government.” The Dortmund authorities refused to release her statement with their own account of what happened.

It’s fraught territory, and giving in may look like playing safe, but it’s a sad abdication of judgement, and a discouragement to writers who want to take on serious issues of human rights.