By Jennifer Matsui
Novelist Margaret Atwood’s decision to travel to Tel Aviv to share a literary prize worth a million dollars has ignited a controversy in which the septuagenarian author and vice-president of the literary human rights organization PEN International has come under fire by Palestinian rights activists. Ms Atwood’s acceptance of the Dan David Prize, whose previous laureates include Al Gore and Tony Blair, is viewed by Ms Atwood’s critics as a betrayal to the ideals she supposedly represents, and an unwitting endorsement of Israel’s race exclusive policies.
The Canadian author’s insistence that refusing the blood-spattered trophy would be tantamount to “censorship” rings as false as her commitments to justice as an anti-apartheid activist, and as a writer who has made tyranny and oppression recurring themes in her novels, elevating her from fiction writer to public intellectual. I say “false” because “justice for some” is hardly an ethical stance with any merit, and certainly not one that will maintain her status as an “oppositional intellectual”. Sadly, this “intellectual” has made no effort to research the subject of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its unyielding, systematic oppression of the Palestinian people (as many Jewish and Israeli scholars and activists themselves have bravely condemned). Otherwise, she would use the occasion of the invitation to condemn an increasingly murderous regime and call upon its people to support sanctions, boycotts and divestments until their government accepted the rule of International law and reversed its policy of displacement and expulsion of Arab people from their ancestral lands. Instead the once outspoken author has chosen to put monetary interests ahead of the principled moral stances she has taken in the past, in order to lay claim to a tainted prize given each year to fame-hungry “artists” looking to boost sagging sales of their product while making all the appropriate noises to the press about free speech.