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Israel-Hamas tensions hit world’s biggest book fair

Publishing industry figures and authors flock to the Frankfurt Book Fair every year
Publishing industry figures and authors flock to the Frankfurt Book Fair every year - Copyright AFP DANIEL ROLAND
Publishing industry figures and authors flock to the Frankfurt Book Fair every year - Copyright AFP DANIEL ROLAND
Sam Reeves

The Israel-Hamas war is set to overshadow the Frankfurt Book Fair this week after the postponement of a Palestinian author’s award ceremony sparked condemnation from top writers and the withdrawal of several Arab groups.

The world’s biggest publishing trade event begins Wednesday just over a week since Hamas launched the deadliest attack in Israel’s history, prompting Israel to respond with a relentless bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip. 

Organisers swiftly denounced the Palestinian militants’ “barbaric” assault and rushed to reorganise the schedule, pledging Israeli voices would feature prominently. 

The fair “stands with complete solidarity on the side of Israel,” director Juergen Boos said in a statement.

But the run-up to the five-day event has been overshadowed by a furious backlash after an award ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli was postponed.

She was due to receive the LiBeraturpreis, a German award, for her book “A Minor Detail,” based on the real events of a 1949 rape and murder by Israeli soldiers. 

It is organised by Litprom, which gives out the honour each year at the fair, but the group said they had decided not to go ahead with the ceremony “due to the war started by Hamas”. 

It said in a statement that it was looking for a “suitable format and setting for the event at a later point,” while insisting that: “Awarding the prize to Adania Shibli was never in question.”

However in an open letter released Monday, over 600 signatories including high-profile authors, publishers and literary agents, condemned the move.

Postponing the award amounted to “closing out the space for a Palestinian voice”, said the letter, whose signatories included Abdulrazak Gurnah and Olga Tokarczuk, both winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

“The Frankfurt Book Fair has a responsibility, as a major international book fair, to be creating spaces for Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings, reflections on literature through these terrible, cruel times, not shutting them down,” it added. 

Other writers who signed included Pankaj Mishra, William Dalrymple, Colm Toibin and Naomi Klein.

– Artificial intelligence threat –

Some Arab publishing industry groups announced at the weekend they were pulling out of the fair.

These included the Sharjah Book Authority, in the United Arab Emirates, which said in a statement that “we champion the role of culture and books to encourage dialogue and understanding between people.

“We believe that this role is more important than ever.”

The Emirates Publishers Association released a similar statement, while the UAE-based National newspaper reported the Arab Publishers’ Association in Egypt had also pulled out. 

While declining to comment on the decisions of individual exhibitors, Boos insisted the fair was “open to authors, publishers, translators and literature fans from all over the world.”

It is a “platform for both Israeli and Palestinian voices,” he said.

Elsewhere at the fair, one of the most anticipated authors featuring this year will be Salman Rushdie, who has appeared only rarely in public since a stabbing attack last year that nearly killed him. 

Rushdie, who has faced death threats since his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” was declared blasphemous by Iran’s supreme leader, lost sight in one eye in the attack in the small American town of Chautauqua.

The author is due to speak at a press conference on Friday and will be awarded the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade on Sunday.

Also in focus this year is artificial intelligence and its potential impact on the publishing industry.

There is “a deep sense of insecurity” among book industry players worldwide about AI, said Boos.

Concerns range from potential copyright violations to low-quality, computer-written books flooding the market, he said.

The Frankfurt Book Fair, in its 75th edition this year, runs from Wednesday to Sunday. 

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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