IN THE MEDIA

Writers festival must not embrace anti-Semitic hate

Feb 20, 2023 | Justin Amler, Tammy Reznik

Susan Abulhawa (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Susan Abulhawa (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Weekend Australian – Feb. 18 2023

 

There is a clear and present danger when superstars who are public anti-Semites such as Ye, previously known as Kanye West, plan to visit our shores. Many rightfully argued Ye should not receive a visa on character grounds, given his public statements promoting hatred could encourage those with similarly repugnant views. When it comes to literary events, should we not uphold the same standards?

Of the 200 or so writers appearing at the Adelaide Writers Week in early March, seven are listed as being from “Palestine” – and none from Israel. In a world in which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is often in the news cycle, promoting a single point of view on a major international controversy without any opposing perspective seems to run counter to the “notion of truth” festival director Louise Adler says she seeks to promote.

But the problem is far worse than simple imbalance.

Take Susan Abulhawa, who calls herself an “exiled Palestinian” and whose debut novel, Mornings in Jenin, was translated into 30 languages. Abulhawa’s social media posts smear Israel as “demonic” and “sadistic”, likening Jews to Nazis, saying: “It’s possible to be Jewish and a Nazi at the same time. It’s called Israel.” And “One cannot overstate what an abomination Israel truly is. They’re worse than Nazis”.

On January 24, just three days before seven Jews were murdered outside a Jerusalem synagogue, she said: “These people are vile. Armed human garbage. But I take comfort in knowing without a doubt that this colonial apartheid state will eventually be … wiped off the map.” After the massacre, in a since-deleted tweet, Abulhawa said: “Every Israeli, whether in a synagogue, a checkpoint, settlement, or shopping mall is a coloniser who came from foreign lands and kicked out the native inhabitants. They all serve in their racist colonial military. The whole country is one big, militarised tumour.”

And her support for terrorism is unequivocal. In one publicity shot, she smiles at the camera. Behind her, hanging prominently on the wall is a picture of the infamous female Palestinian terrorist Dalal Mughrabi. In 1978, Mughrabi helped slaughter 38 Israelis, almost all civilians, including 13 children, and is lionised as a Palestinian heroine and role model.

Abulhawa also backs Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, describing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “a depraved Zionist trying to ignite World War III”, and, in line with Russian propaganda, declares “DeNazify Ukraine”. Shockingly, she is not the only extremist invited.

Ramzy Baroud, editor of The Palestine Chronicle and author of six books, claimed in an April 2020 article: “Those racist Israelis … are deliberately trying to infect Palestinians with … Covid-19”, and: “Now that we know that the deadly coronavirus can be transmitted through saliva droplets, Israeli soldiers and illegal Jewish settlers are working extra hard to spit at as many Palestinians, their cars, doorknobs, and so on, as possible.”

Another guest is Mohammed El-Kurd, named by Time magazine in 2021 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. That same year, he tweeted: “Across the country Zionists are beating, gassing, shooting, lynching Palestinians”, claiming they have an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood & land”.

Talking at Arizona State University, he referred to pro-Israel students in the audience as “apartheid lovers”, telling them “if you heckle me, you will get shot”.

His views are so toxic that last year, after examining his social media history, the Goethe Institute in Germany revoked his invitation to speak on a cultural panel.

Another guest is Egyptian-born pro-Palestinian activist Ahdaf Soueif, who in a Guardian article completely denied Jerusalem’s Jewish history, calling it fake. “Like the fake inscribed prayers … settlers carve into the Arab houses when they take them over.”

The portrayal of Jews as usurpers and colonisers, with no legitimate or historic claim to the land, is a popular Palestinian tactic.

These are not the words of anonymous internet trolls, but literary superstars, invited to this country to share their wisdom. And that’s alarming because these are people who do not preach peaceful outcomes, but violence and ethnic hatred. El-Kurd reportedly replied at Duke University, when asked what would happen to the Jews if he got his way: “I truly, sincerely don’t give a f..k.”

Writing is a freedom, but when that freedom of expression is used as a licence for spreading hatred and incitement to violence, it crosses a line. Our immigration laws are designed to keep out people who cross that line. This includes writers such as Abulhawa, Baroud and el-Kurd as much as rappers such as Ye. Moreover, questions should be asked about how a literary festival, supported by South Australian taxpayers, came to invite not one but at least three such inciters. We should not allow an intended showcase of literary talent to become a showcase of terror, nor a festival of ideas to be turned into a festival of hate.

Justin Amler and Tammy Reznik are policy analysts at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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