The world’s biggest book fair in Frankfurt lamented a “disaster” Tuesday after publishing groups withdrew in protest at organizers’ support for Israel.
Organizations that pulled out were also angered at a decision to postpone an award ceremony for a Palestinian author following the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war.
The Frankfurt Book Fair official begins Wednesday against the backdrop of the Israel’s siege of Gaza and its evacuation order for the north of the enclave, that the United Nations human rights office said could amount to a forcible transfer of civilians and be in breach of international law.
Book fair organizers who denounced Hamas' assault on Israel, rushed to reorganize the schedule, pledging Israeli voices would feature prominently.
But, highlighting the bitter divisions unleashed by the conflict, the world’s biggest publishing trade event has since faced withdrawals by organizations.
Among them was the Indonesian Publishers Association, which said organizers’ decision to “take sides and give Israel a platform has undermined the ideals of dialogue and efforts to build mutual understanding.
“Siding with Israel while forgetting the suffering of the Palestinian people is like reading only one book to feel like you understand the whole world.”
The publishing association had been due to take part in activities promoting Indonesian culture at the fair.
The education ministry in Malaysia said it was pulling out, citing organizers “pro-Israel stance.”
The Sharjah Book Authority, in the United Arab Emirates, and the Emirates Publishers Association have also withdrawn, while the UAE-based National newspaper reported the Arab Publishers’ Association in Egypt had pulled out.
Asked about the withdrawals, fair director Juergen Boos told a press conference he was “very disappointed” some participants had chosen not to come “because of geopolitics.”
“That’s a complete for disaster for us, for myself. I want people to be here, to have a (frank) discourse, to have discussions even if it might be controversial.”
There has also been anger at a decision to postpone an award ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli.
She was due to receive the LiBeraturpreis, a German award, for her book “A Minor Detail,” based on the real events of a 1949 rape and murder by Israeli soldiers.
It is organized by Litprom, which gives out the honor each year at the fair, but the group decided not to go ahead with the ceremony “due to the war started by Hamas.”
The group says it will hold the event later, and insisted that awarding the prize to Shibli was “never in question.”
However in an open letter released Monday, over 600 signatories including high-profile authors, publishers and literary agents, condemned the move.
Postponing the award amounted to “closing out the space for a Palestinian voice,” said the letter, whose signatories included Abdulrazak Gurnah and Olga Tokarczuk, both winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Other writers who signed included Pankaj Mishra, William Dalrymple, Colm Toibin and Naomi Klein.
Asked about the controversy Tuesday, a book fair spokesman said Litprom decided to delay the ceremony to a later date when it would be more possible to “have a more dignified exchange about literature.”
The book fair does not organize the award.
Elsewhere at the fair, one of the most anticipated authors featuring this year will be Salman Rushdie, who has appeared only rarely in public since a stabbing attack last year that nearly killed him.
Rushdie, who has faced death threats since his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” was declared blasphemous by Iran’s supreme leader, lost sight in one eye in the attack in the small American town of Chautauqua.
The Frankfurt Book Fair, in its 75th edition this year, runs from Wednesday to Sunday.