I did not initiate the Boycott Appeal. When contacted by the ATIC agency, I declared my support. The Book Fair’s invitation was a provocation, I stated ; the indifference of the international community to Palestinian suffering was unacceptable. Not everything from the State of Israel could be accepted, I added (never did I say that “nothing from the State of Israel should be accepted” ; my words were inaccurately translated from Arabic by ATIC, which acknowledged its error). To call for a boycott does not mean to deny the existence of Israel. I do not deny Israel’s existence. I do oppose its policy of occupation and the inhuman and repressive campaigns undertaken by successive Israeli governments. I have always fought anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms, and will continue to do so. I have been a long-time and regular participant in discussion groups and debate between Jews and Muslims. I refuse to be blackmailed by politicians, intellectuals and some media outlets.
To fail to distinguish criticism of the State of Israel and its policies from anti-Semitism is an imposture ; an insult to the conscience of humanity and to the dignity of the Palestinians ; a stance that blindly takes the side of the strong, and accepts that the lives of the weak have no value, that they may be sacrificed for purely political considerations. Unless we are to be taken for imbeciles, the celebration of a state’s sixtieth anniversary is, in every sense of the word, a political event.
We have no intention of denying freedom of expression ; we have no desire to suppress the culture of writers and artists. They should be welcome guests at such events ; I have frequently taken part in discussions with them (though it would be interesting to ask, given the absence of Muslim or Christian Israeli Arab writers, just what the Turin Book Fair organizers were thinking about. Who, in their view, makes up Palestinian society ?)
It has been said that my support for the boycott is tantamount to a fatwa ! Not content with distorting my position and my words, smear tactics are now being used. The term “fatwa” is designed to remind us of the sorry attempt to muzzle the freedom of expression of Salman Rushdie. Above and beyond the fact that I immediately condemned the fatwa against Mr. Rushdie, I must reiterate in the most forceful terms that my support for the boycott is neither a religious ruling, nor an Islamic legal opinion. What ignorance, what manipulation ! Their arguments demonstrably bankrupt, my opponents now seek to demonize me : “Tariq Ramadan is a fatwa-issuing anti-Semite !” Not only is such a claim an outright falsehood, it is an insult to any person who claims respect for culture and dialogue.
The boycott is the means chosen by the defenders of Palestinian rights in Italy to make the voice of protest heard against the chorus of praise for a celebration that whitewashes the sinister reality of the Occupied Territories. I have recently learned that organizations defending Palestinian rights in France have chosen to participate in the upcoming Salon du Livre (Paris, March 14-19). There they will invite Palestinian and Israeli Arab intellectuals and authors to speak and join in open debate. I unreservedly support their initiative. Once again, the goal is to defend Palestinian dignity, and not to allow the celebration of Israel’s sixtieth anniversary to shroud the fate of the Palestinians, and the inhuman policies inflicted upon them.
There is no contradiction between actions, between the boycott in Turin and the open challenge in Paris. Our task today, above and beyond considerations of strategy, is to break the silence, to provide a platform for voices that reject political manipulation, and demand that the policies of successive Israeli governments be judged like those of any other state, especially when such policies are shameful, repressive, and violate UN resolutions and international law. Public opinion must be reminded of a heritage of sixty years of colonization, population transfer, exile and death : the negative heritage of Israel’s anniversary. Contrary to the claims of Marek Halter (Le Monde, February 15, 2008), I have never called for the destruction of Israel ; I am not an ideological apologist for any state, for any organization that propounds such a policy. Such words are not only deeply malicious, but also utterly dishonest.
I continue to believe that the choice of Israel as guest of honor, while the Palestinian people are being killed in Gaza, is at minimum an error in judgment ; it can only be seen as a deliberate act. In fact, the Turin Book Fair’s so-called ‘cultural choice’ is the faithful reflection of the stance of Europe and the West : Israel is celebrated, while political criticism of Israel is equated with anti-Semitism. But above all, the silence over Palestinian suffering is deafening. Turin’s ‘cultural choice’ by shirking responsibility, as the unconditional supporters of Israeli state policies are so adept at doing, echoes the “politics of silence”.
We will not remain silent ! Either by means of a boycott, or by “another salon” at the heart of the Salon du Livre, the objective is the same : to make our voices heard. Who today can condemn us for using all the peaceful means at our disposal ? The verbal reactions we have encountered clearly indicate where the true source of violence lies.
Silence, in majority Muslim countries as well as in the West, is a contributing factor to Middle East violence ! Many of us, including Israelis and Jews, have decided that we will not remain silent while a state that employs targeted assassination, that starves an entire population, is being honored. I would unhesitatingly participate in any panel or debate with Israeli authors on philosophical or literary questions, or on the vital importance of the right to criticize Israel. I would be the first to respond to such an invitation, and to encourage Palestinian Christian and Muslim Arab authors to respond positively. That said, I am determined to oppose with my whole mind and heart the manipulations and the silence of the politicians : people are being killed, and robbed of their dignity, while others eat, drink and make merry.