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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Indonesia, Malaysia boycott Frankfurt Book Fair after Palestinian voices ‘shut down’
JAKARTA: Writers from Indonesia and Malaysia have stood in support of their countries’ decision to withdraw from the largest international book fair in Frankfurt following the organizer’s public support for Israel.
Both countries were ready to participate in the fair that started on Wednesday when an awards ceremony to celebrate Palestinian writer Adania Shibli was called off last week. Shibli was going to be honored with the prestigious LiBeraturpreis for her novel “Minor Detail,” which tells the true story of the rape and murder of a Palestinian girl by Israeli soldiers in 1949.
The cancelation of the award ceremony coincided with the ongoing Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which started after the Gaza-based militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, published a statement detailing plans “to make Jewish and Israeli voices especially visible” during the literary event and expressed “complete solidarity on the side of Israel.”
For Indonesians, the stance was “like reading only one book to feel like you understand the whole world,” the Indonesian Publishers Association said in a statement on Monday, as it rejected “the Frankfurt Book Fair’s stance of supporting and giving a wider stage to Israel at this year’s exhibition while denying the Palestinian people’s right to independence.”
Malaysia’s Education Ministry followed suit hours later, saying it would “not compromise on Israeli violence in Palestine.”
The decisions found widespread support in literary circles.
Malaysian writer Faisal Tehrani told Arab News he was saddened by the book fair’s decision to sideline Shibli, whom he believes “will get the Nobel one day.”
With Malaysia’s support for Palestine, which transcends political differences, it would be “unthinkable” to participate in the Frankfurt fair, he said, adding that its organizer’s approach completely disregarded the situation in Gaza, where 3,400 people, mostly women and children, had been killed since the beginning of the Israeli onslaught.
“FBF gathers literary figures and authors. Literature is about humanity,” Tehrani said. “What FBF did is baffling truly.”
Indonesian novelist Laksmi Pamuntjak, who won the LiBeraturpreis in 2016, issued a statement in support of her country’s decision to withdraw.
The Frankfurt Book Fair’s decision to side with Israel “shows that this book fair no longer represents the voice of the world, where all nations and countries have the right and deserve a platform to voice their own truths,” she said, adding that organizers should have set the stage also for Palestinian writers, instead of “shutting down their voices.”
Indonesian writer Andina Dwi Fatma has declined an invitation to speak at a literary event associated with the Frankfurt Book Fair after the organizers announced their position.
“I’ve been following the news with a broken heart. And after I saw what FBF posted … I told them that I can’t attend the festival now that they made clear that they stand in complete solidarity with Israel,” she told Arab News.
“I think everybody must do something within their means … This is not a bilateral problem between Israel and Palestine; it’s a genocide, a humanitarian tragedy. So, declining that invitation is the least I can do as a writer.”
For novelist Okky Madasari, Indonesia’s decision not to participate in the fair was valid as it was important for writers, publishers and intellectuals to remind the world “that such a support disregarding the context and history can provide Israel with justification to kill more people and do more violence.”
She told Arab News that events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair are seen by many as a noble medium to advance human knowledge and understanding.
“Imagine how much weight it gives to Israel to do anything they want to do,” she said.
“By boycotting the book fair, we can tell them that their unconditional support for Israel is not only seriously wrong but also very dangerous and deadly for the Palestinians.”
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