Sunday, January 27, 2008


Turin Book Fair "Israel Guest of Honour", and the debate begins!

at the left, a book to BUY!
Turin will host the International Book Fair in May. Already, there has been quite a bit of movement about it in activist circles. Why? Because the Guest of Honour is Israel, and 60 Authors (magic of numbers?) will be the highlighted ones. Aharon Shabtai already said NO! Ibrahim Nasrallah said NO! and others too have raised their voices. Strange thing thought, the leading Left Newspaper il manifesto, who takes money for the paid ad for supporting Gaza, comes out against the Boycott. It is the reasoning behind it that is incredible. Read this editorial by Valentino Parlato and this response (I will translate more later, I have a growing list here) by Diego Traversa.

By Valentino Parlato (from il manifesto, 24/01/08)

The International Book Fair will be held in Turin next May (from the 8th to the 12th) but it is already arousing quarrels and polemics that have concerned even our tenacious and tolerant group. The fair is being held in the 60th anniversary of Israel’s foundation and therefore, quite inevitably, the Palestinian question gets resumed.

After World War II and the massacre of the Jews, it was necessary to recognize their right to have a territory and a state of their own. Even Stalin was in favour of the foundation of Israel while Great Britain­, a fact of not minor importance, ­was against it. And ­it’s my personal memory­ to insist that the Arab world wouldn’t have accepted a Jewish state, it favoured great manifestations of resistance: in Tripoli (where I lived at that time) a violent and blooddy anti-Jewish pogrom took place in a complicit indifference of the British military authorities.

Today’s polemics regard this Book Fair, one that gives Israel a place of honour with the risk of a literary legitimization of its policies. Let me say first that I have no position in principle against the boycott, since it was more than fair to endorse it against the racist white South Africans. But there’s boycott and boycott and therefore I’m completely against boycotting this Book Fair (books must be always respected) and against boycotting Israel. The Israelis, ­who after all are still Jews, no matter how many wrongs as they have done against the Palestinians, can by no means be compared with the racist South Africans and moreover, ­there’s a point that we can’t forget and, by no means a small one, that ­there is the historical persecution of the Jewish people, there are the ghettos and the concentration camps.

At this point is useful recalling what I was told in an interview to il manifesto with Rome’s Chief Rabbi. In the Warsaw Ghetto, the last song the Jews sung was the Internationale (translator’s note, Communist anthem). And then they were slaughtered by the Germans.

Hence let’s take advantage of this International Book Fair of Turin to talk, to criticize Israel’s policies, to uphold the Palestinians’ rights who, in those territories, seem to have turned into the new Jews. Let’s talk and argue with each other, but let’s tell the boycott to go to hell. Not only because the Israelis are Jews and not Afrikaaners, but also because the boycott is mute. It’s a no without any arguments. Next May in Turin there are going to be Jewish writers of high stature and we must talk, reason, argue and defend the Palestinian people’s rights along with them. I’m aware of the ancestral fears of Israel’s people. I’m aware of their fear, ­I was told by a good Israeli ambassador in Rome, ­of being the target of renewed crusades. I think I can understand, but Israel must be more Jewish with the Palestinians. It must consider them as close relatives. But just because of all this, the boycott serves only to be detrimental the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Translated by Diego Traversa and revised by Mary Rizzo

Memory, Hypocrisy and that Messy Little Place of Honour
By Diego Traversa

Despite all the respect that I might have for Valentino Parlato, I am writing to express how stunned his editorial on the Turin Book Fair has left me.

It seemed to me a very simplistic and dogmatic article, overflowing to the brim with hypocrisy and a “feel-good” sentiment. But, of course, it’s still January, the Day of Holocaust Memory is upon us so naturally all of us must acknowledge how important it is to be philo-Jewish, all of us to kneel down humbly and to make amends for the horrors of the past. And, since I am here, I am going to take advantage of the opportunity myself, to absolve my duty and publicly ask pardon from all Jews: forgive us for what our people did to you and forgive me if I had a grandfather who was a convinced Fascist.

Having said this, let’s go back to dig through the lines of the article by Valentino Parlato, authoritative and legendary voice of il manifesto.

His comments on the upcoming Book Fair of Turin seem to me at the very least pointless and contradictory.

In the first place, it is not true that it was necessary to give a state to the Jews and further, neither is it true that Stalin was in agreement: his was mere political shrewdness, oriented at extending the Russian dominion towards the Mediterranean. This is indeed true in that Russia radically changed its politics by becoming fiercely anti-Zionist, just to show how much Stalin had the Jewish people close to heart!

The pivot of Parlato’s theorem is that one must reject the anti-Israeli boycott for an entire set of reasons: because the Jews have suffered unspeakable wrongs, because they can’t be compared to racist white South Africans (as a matter of curiosity, who knows if the Israeli magnates of the diamond industry momentarily put aside their traffic with South Africa when the entire world was practicing the boycott…) and especially because the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, before they were massacred by the Nazis, “sang the Internationale”.

What kind of discourse is he engaged in?

It is as if the sole fact of having had relatives who are evacuated and socialists guarantees any individual whatsoever the right to act any way he wants, stepping on the rights of others. It is almost like saying that the single mother in Taranto who made an unauthorised occupation of the house of that old woman who was taken to the hospital has the right to do such a thing. Even if this example does not fit like a glove, seeing as how the Israelis have done much more than occupy someone else’s house unlawfully.

In the first place, theirs is not a popular nationalism, but rather a nationalism imposed from on high, born out of diplomatic trafficking and intrigue between powers when the Jewish masses had not even the slightest interest in searching for a new country. Furthermore, it was not only the Jewish Socialist leaders who brought forward demands of independence, but even the ultra-conservatives and the representatives of the petit bourgeois and the middle classes. As a matter of fact, truth to tell, the history of Israel is nothing but an anthem, the triumph of an ideology that is one of the most reactionary possible. After the Ben-Gurions and Moshe Sharetts (who, rather than Socialists, I would define National Socialists), came the Begins, the Shamirs, and the Sharons to model modern Zionism, that is, the “ideological” children of that Vladimir Jabotinsky who promoted the crudest nationalism by supporting violence and the transfer of the Palestinian people. Therefore, telling us the story that the Jews sang the Internationale as valid argumentation to justify the existence of the Jewish state seems to me quite absurd, if not outright ridiculous and unjust, as if the destruction and violence committed against the indigenous Americans was justified by the religious persecution that the founding fathers and pilgrims of the Mayflower underwent and rendered dignified by their sacred hymns.

Yet, I don’t wish to focus too much attention on the history of Israel, but I can’t help but notice that the entire contradiction expressed by Parlato comes to the surface when he talks about boycotting: first he insists that it was right to enact that instrument against South Africans, but then he summons that the boycott is useless because it is “a no without arguments”.

It seems to me that the boycott is a civil and democratic form of non-violent protest: it is not censorship, forbidding someone to speak. It is only an outspoken way to express dissent. Specifically, considering the place of honour that has been given to the writers of Israel, it is more than opportune to should dissent against the exponents (respectable or not as they may be) of a country as racist, militaristic and warlike as Israel. Precisely because the Israelis have not learned anything from their past; precisely because they should be the first to oppose the modern horrors committed in Palestine, being, as we are constantly reminded, the “only” people to have known just what true suffering is; and especially because they do not treat the Palestinians like Semitic brothers (quite the opposite, they hate them a great deal, as witnessed in the widespread racism within Israeli society).

I am sorry for those Israeli writers who rightly point their fingers at the terrible politics enacted by their government, but unfortunately, this event in Turn has taken on a stale and disgusting taste of institutional legitimisation of Israel: the first to boycott this disgrace should be precisely those same writers who know firsthand what it means to live in Palestine today and how much horror Zionism has brought about. Theirs would be a clamorous deed, more meaningful than a thousand boycotts.

In regards to Valentino Parlato, I can only say: January may have become the Month of Memory but, please, let’s be careful it does not become the Month of Hypocrisy.

Translated from Italian by Mary Rizzo. Diego Traversa and Mary Rizzo are both members of Tlaxcala, network of translators for linguistic diversity.

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