Boycotts, writers, politics


So Amitav Ghosh has accepted the Dan David prize, from Israel. Despite this open letter from some “Indian intellectuals” and this one from various organizations supporting the Global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement for Palestine entreating him to turn it down. 

Ghosh has responded to both letters;  his response and his  joint acceptance speech with Margaret Atwood are both available at  Margaret Atwood’s blog

The issue has already been debated, hotly, at Kafila, here and here, to which I have little to add. But perhaps some readers here were expecting me to say something since my last post was on Ghosh’s refusal of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.  Some coincidence, no?  And yes, it was a refusal. It saddens me to read Ghosh’s ludicrous contention (in response to the reminder about his stance on the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize) that he had “withdrawn his book from the competition” and not refused the prize.

To view the Dan David prize as ‘merely’ literary, into which nothing political  need be read, is now untenable because  in his response Ghosh tackles head-on the political reasons for the demand that he reject the prize. He strives hard, and eloquently, to walk the tight-rope between condemning the atrocities against the Palestinians and respecting the legitimacy (of the historical origins) of Israel. Certainly, as he points out, this is a delicate dilemma faced the world over.  ‘Liberation movements’ versus the ‘rights/responsibilities’ of the State: who you support depends on which side of the line you’re on. I think he makes a very telling point about the hypocrisy that many intellectuals, and the privileged, practise in their discourse on this dilemma. Why should novelists be any exception?

The trouble is that the novelist in question here is neither Zionist nor Palestinian.  Ergo one expects objectivity from him. While his letter by and large tries to present both sides of the picture, he gives himself badly away in his statements about America (and Barack Obama) being the only hope for a solution to the crisis. So you know exactly where he’s coming from. Oh yes, Ghosh’s response is political all right!

I will not insult the man by talking about the prize money. But I will say that I am disappointed, deeply disappointed. Another fallen idol.



  1. […] the rest of this great post here << Fox Business: Lenders Agree to Prop Up […]

  2. AB said

    Very well written.

    To put the Atwood and Ghosh defense into perspective, Noam Chomsky was denied entry into Israel yesterday.



  3. Anand:

    Thanks. Indeed, as Carlo Strenger, professor at Tel Aviv University, puts it in The Huffingon Post: ” I wouldn’t know of any democratic state that denies entry to thinkers (or anybody else for that matter) who neither call for violence or break local or international law.”

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