Italian polemic on the boycott of the Turin Book Fair

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 andm 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.

Valentino Parlato

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Translated by Diego Traversa and revised by Mary Rizzo

Memory, Hypocrisy and a Book Fair: a response to Valentino Parlato
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.

Not in teir names, please !

Vincenzo Tradardi
ISM Italia
Parma 24 January 2008

Dear Valentino,
I think that for you to have expressed your hasty negative judgment on the proposal of boycotting of the International Book Fair of Turin this year, which has decided to choose as its guest of honour the State of Israel in the year that marks the 60th since its birth, you could and should have used less banal and more convincing arguments.
Your fine distinction between the (just) boycott of Apartheid South Africa and the (wrong) boycott of Apartheid Israel is of a subtlety that is even somewhat dangerous to interpret.
You write, with a particularly insufferable tone, that “with the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel, the Palestinian question inevitably reopens”. In reality, the Palestinian question has been open for 60 years and has never been closed.
The State of Palestine, which itself was foreseen by the UN in December 1947, never saw the light of day, not even on that minuscule 22% in which the Palestinian population has been rounded up into after the Nakba, that is, the Catastrophe, that is, the ethnic cleansing of 1948.
And it is really strange that you, in order to justify these 60 years of oppression, occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing bring in Stalin, notorious organiser of Gulags.
It is just as strange that you cite the fact that in the Warsaw Ghetto the last Jews who were the protagonists of a heroic armed resistance (that right to resistance that the cowardly and hypocritical European governments deny to the Palestinians who are occupied militarily and who have been mistreated for decades by Israel), sung the Internationale before being massacred.
Those heroes, certainly, would have had nothing whatsoever to do with a State, the State of Israel, that for more than 60 years denies every kind of right to the Palestinian people, that forces them to undergo cruel incarceration in a ghetto and constant genocide.
Not in their names, please!
Hence, there is nothing to celebrate: next 15 May will be a sad and tragic date, it is the sign of a historical failure and a catastrophe that unfolds day after day. It is with a heavy heart that I write this to you, deeply troubled by your brief article and, I add, aware that the newspaper you edit is one of the very few non-embedded voices and that through your correspondents from Palestine, it is able to still communicate that tragic truth without compromise, taking the side of the victims and not of the persecutors no matter what ethnic group or religion they belong to.

A barbarian act masked as culture

Aharon Shabtai, the greatest living Israeli poet says “no” both to the Turin and to the Paris Book Fair. Here is the letter he sent to Edna Degon, in charge of organizing the Israeli presence at the coming Paris Book Fair.

Dear Edna,
Thank you for your letter.
I do not believe that a State that maintains an occupation, committing on a daily basis crimes against civilians, deserves to be invited to any kind of cultural week. That is, it is anti-cultural; it is a barbarian act masked as culture in the most cynical way. It manifests support for Israel, and even to France that sustains the occupation. And I do not want to participate.
Kind regards,
Aharon Shabtai
7 December, 2007

Culture – Aharon Shabtai

The mark of Cain won’t sprout
from a soldier who shoots
at the head of a child
on a knoll by the fence
around a refugee camp
-for beneath his helmet,
conceptually speaking,
his head is made of cardboard.
On the other hand,
the officer has read The Rebel1;
his head is enlightened,
and so he does not believe
in the mark of Cain.
He’s spent time in museums,
and when he aims his rifle at a boy
as an ambassador of Culture,
he updates and recycles
Goya’s etchings
and Guernica.

1 : English title of the famous essay of Albert Camus, L’homme révolté
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Translated from Italian by Mary Rizzo