Wednesday Sep 18, 2019
A German city revised its decision to award celebrated British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie the Nelly Sachs Prize over her support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The city of Dortmund had announced on September 6 to award its Nelly Sachs Prize — bestowed by the City Council and worth $16,500 — to Shamsie but revised its decision less than two weeks later after an eight-member jury held a meeting.
In a statement, the jury said: "Despite prior research, the members of the jury were not aware that the author has been participating in the boycott measures against the Israeli government for its Palestinian policies since 2014.
"Kamila Shamsie's political positioning to actively participate in the cultural boycott as part of the BDS (Boycott Disinvestment Sanctions) campaign against the Israeli government is clearly in contradiction to the statutory objectives of the award and the spirit of the Nelly Sachs Prize.
"The cultural boycott does not transcend borders, but affects the whole of Israeli society regardless of its actual political and cultural heterogeneity" and that Shamsie's support for the BDS movement "contrasts with the claim of the Nelly Sachs Prize to proclaim and exemplify reconciliation among peoples and cultures".
Condemning the move, Shamsie said it was "a matter of outrage" to view the BDS movement "as something shameful and unjust".
Speaking to the Middle East Eye (MEE), the author said: "It is a matter of great sadness to me that a jury should bow to pressure and withdraw a prize from a writer who is exercising her freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.
"It is a matter of outrage that the BDS movement (modelled on the South African boycott) that campaigns against the government of Israel for its acts of discrimination and brutality against Palestinians should be held up as something shameful and unjust."
Shamsie — known for her celebrated works like Home Fire, Broken Verses, and Kartography — further said the Dortmund City Council refused her request to include her statement in their press release.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier announced his plan to annex a part of the West Bank in direct violation of the international law, she noted, slamming the Nelly Sachs jury for its decision.
"In this political context, the jury of the Nelly Sachs prize has chosen to withdraw the award from me on the basis of my support for a non-violent campaign to bring pressure on the Israeli government," the acclaimed novelist told the MEE.
The Nelly Sachs Prize jury reversed its decision after the Ruhrbarone blog pointed out that Shamsie does not wish to have an Israeli publisher translate her books into Hebrew. The blog further stressed that "the prize named after the Jewish writer Nelly-Sachs, who is closely linked to Israel".
In addition, Spiegel magazine reported that German politician Volker Beck pushed it further, asking on Twitter: "What is going wrong? What does the anti-Semitic commissioner say?"