The Right to Boycott
It is with dismay that we learned of the decision of the City of Dortmund to rescind the Nelly Sachs Award for Literature from Kamila Shamsie because of her stated commitment to the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
As a statement by more than forty progressive Jewish organisations says, ‘dangerously [conflating] anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of occupation and apartheid ... undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against antisemitism. It also serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law.’
In Germany, the attacks on BDS are among the most fierce. In May 2019 the Bundestag passed a motion labelling the movement as antisemitic. Yet on 13 September, the Administrative Court of Cologne became the third court in the country to rule in favour of the right to boycott.
In its ruling the court wrote: ‘The motions of the Bonn City Council ... and the German Bundestag (17 May 2019), do not constitute legislative acts but are political resolutions or expressions of political will. These motions alone cannot justify, from any legal perspective, the restriction of an existing legal right.’
Yet a few days later, the City of Dortmund chose to punish an author for her human rights advocacy while simultaneously refusing to make public the statement she wrote on learning of the decision.
So we publish Kamila Shamsie’s statement here:
In the just concluded Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to annex up to one third of the West Bank, in contravention of international law, and his political opponent Benny Gantz’s objection to this was that Netanyahu had stolen his idea; this closely followed the killing of two Palestinian teenagers by Israeli forces – which was condemned as ‘appalling’ by the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process. 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. 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; and 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.
What is the meaning of a literary award that undermines the right to advocate for human rights, the principles of freedom of conscience and expression, and the freedom to criticise? Without these, art and culture become meaningless luxuries.
Khalid Abdalla, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Sohaila Abdulali, Nadia Abu el-Haj, Diana Abu-Jaber, Susan Abulhawa, Lila Abu-Lughod, Maan Abu Taleb, Ammiel Alcalay, Kazim Ali, Monica Ali, Nir Alon, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Suad Amiry, Tahmima Anam, Sinan Antoon, Lisa Appignanesi, Nicole Aragi, Arnold Aronson, Elsa Auerbach, Zeina Azzam, Kafah Bachari, Annie Baker, Sunandini Banerjee, Frank Barat, Mourid Barghouti, Josh Begley, Joel Beinin, Linda Benedikt, Phyllis Bennis, Susan Bernofsky, Omar Berrada, Dwayne Betts, Akeel Bilgrami, Nicholas Blincoe, Leah Borromeo, Brian Boyd, Victoria Brittain, Virginia Brown, Simone Browne, Jehan Bseiso, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, John Burnside, Margaret Busby, Diana Buttu, Carmen Callil, Juan Cárdenas, Zeynep Celik, Hayan Charara, Amit Chaudhuri, Anne Chisholm (Vice President, Royal Society of Literature), Noam Chomsky, Susannah Clapp, Jennifer Clement (President, PEN International), J.M. Coetzee, Teju Cole, Michael Collier, Irene Cooper, Cindy Corrie, Craig Corrie, Molly Crabapple, Michael Cunningham, Selma Dabbagh, William Dalrymple, Najwan Darwish, Angela Davis, Natalie Zemon Davis, Katy Derbyshire, Kiran Desai, Natalie Diaz, Laurence Dreyfus, Marlene Dumas, Hilda Dunn, Geoff Dyer, Barbara Ehrenreich, Ben Ehrenreich, Deborah Eisenberg, Inua Ellams, Annie Ernaux, Brian Eno, Nick Estes, Richard Falk, Rose Fenton, Sylvia Finzi, Erica Fischer, Richard Ford, Adam Foulds, Maureen Freely (Chair, English PEN), Duranya Freeman, John Freeman, Ru Freeman, Bella Freud, Esther Freud, Ruth Fruchtman, Tess Gallagher, Cristina Garcia, Tomer Gardi, Suzanne Gardinier, Apoorva Gautam, Ashish George, Ralph Ghoche, Noelle Ghoussaini, Eileen Gillooly, Georgina Godwin, David Gorin, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Subhi Hadidi, Rawi Hage, Omar Robert Hamilton, Yasmeen Hanoosh, Jeremy Harding, Githa Hariharan, Joseph Harris, Rodrigo Hasbún, Iris Hefets, Jehan Helou, Mischa Hiller, Marianne Hirsch, Jane Hirschmann, Elizabeth Hodges, Rachel Holmes, Amy Horowitz, Jennifer Ruth Hosek, Jean Howard, Aamer Hussein, Kim Jensen, Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres, Lucy Jones, Fady Joudah, Louis Kampf, Remi Kanazi, Ghada Karmi, Brigid Keenan, A.L. Kennedy, Omar el Khairy, Mona Khalidi, Rashid Khalidi, Hannah Khalil, Shamus Khan, Elias Khoury, Naveen Kishore, Naomi Klein, Alexander Kluge, Nancy Kricorian, Hari Kunzru, Rachel Kushner, Olivia Laing, Nick Laird, Laila Lalami, Léopold Lambert, Patrick Langley, Rickey Laurentiis, Paul Lauter, Paul Laverty, Kiese Laymon, Mason Leaver-Yap, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Ben Lerner, Alan Levine, Richard A. Levy, Ken Loach, Zachary Lockman, Claudia Castro Luna, Ruth Luschnat, Sabrina Mahfouz, Jamal Mahjoub, Laurie Marhoefer, Javier Marías (Nelly Sachs Award Laureate), Jen Marlowe, Lori Marso, Yann Martel, Dave Mason, Ahmed Masoud, Zeinab Masud, Diana Matar, Hisham Matar, Khaled Mattawa, Farid Matuk, Nyla Matuk, Colum McCann, John McCarthy, Tom McCarthy, Fiona McCrae, Sarah McNally, Askold Melnyczuk, Helaine Meisler, Maaza Mengiste, Ritu Menon, Christopher Merrill, Lina Meruane, Brinkley Messick, Claire Messud, China Miéville, Gail Miller, Pankaj Mishra, W.J.T. Mitchell, Nadifa Mohamed, Aja Monet, Jenny Morgan, Benjamin Moser, Michel Moushabek, David Mura, Nancy Murray, Eileen Myles, Karma Nabulsi, Karthika Naïr, Mary Jane Nealon, Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, Marcy Newman, Donna Nevel, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Lulu Norman, Naomi Shihab Nye, John Oakes, Andrew O’Hagan, Richard Ohmann, Ben Okri, Michael Ondaatje (Nelly Sachs Award Laureate), Susie Orbach, Ursula Owen, David Palumbo-Liu, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, William Parry, Shailja Patel, Ian Patterson, Ed Pavlic, Jeremy Pikser, Shahina Piyarali, Sheldon Pollock, Vijay Prashad, Paul B. Preciado, Alexandra Pringle, Philip Pullman, Pary El-Qalqili, Omar al-Qattan, Rania Qawasmah, Shazea Quraishi, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Cynthia Rimsky, Bruce Robbins, Howard A. Rodman, Sally Rooney, Constancia Dinky Romilly, Jacqueline Rose, Andrew Ross, Alice Rothchild, Pru Rowlandson, Bee Rowlatt, Arundhati Roy, Joe Sacco, Nayantara Sahgal, Mariam C. Said, Rebecca Saletan, Mohamed Salmawi, Preeta Samarasan, Sapphire, Shuchi Saraswat, George Saunders, James Schamus, Sarah Schulman, Felicity Scott, Stephen Sedley, Karen Seeley, Gamini Seneviratne, Rebecca Servadio, Rachel Shabi, Elhum Shakerifar, Anton Shammas, Solmaz Sharif, Adam Shatz, Raja Shehadeh, Farhana Sheikh, Jack Shenker, Adania Shibli, Ahmad Shirazi, Ann Shirazi, Avi Shlaim, Marc Siegel, Rick Simonson, Tom Sleigh, Gillian Slovo, Ali Smith, Nirit Sommerfeld, Ahdaf Soueif, Linda Spalding, Gloria Steinem, Amy Kepple Strawser, William Sutcliffe, Billie Swift, Janne Teller, Kate Tempest, Jacques Testard, Madeleine Thien, Colm Tóibín, T.C. Tolbert, Carles Torner (Executive Director, PEN International), Salil Tripathi, (Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee for PEN International), Monique Truong, Jennifer Tseng, Chika Unigwe, Tanya Ury, Karen Van Dyck, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Lawrence Venuti, Margo Viscusi, Gauri Viswanathan, Ocean Vinh Vuong, Dirk Wanrooij, Roger Waters, Marina Warner, Terry Weber, Eliot Weinberger, Irvine Welsh, Ben White, Mabel Wilson, Jeanette Winterson, Jacqueline Woodson, Jay G. Ying, Mona Younis, Dorothy M. Zellner, Alia Trabucco Zerán