The Dan David Prize and Margaret Atwood

We all should write to Margaret Atwood, as requested by BRICUP, to ask her to reject the Dan David Prize. See the exchange below between her and us.

Antoine Raffoul
Coordinator
1948: LEST WE FORGET
www.1948.org.uk

Begin forwarded message:

From: 1948 LEST WE FORGET
Date: 14 April 2010 14:40:15 BDT
To: Vivienne[at]Curtisbrown.co.uk
Subject: The Dan David Prize

Dear Ms Atwood,

I am truly grateful for your response to my email (nazareth41) which urges you to renounce the Dan David Prize 2010.

May I be allowed a response to your kind email in order that I may shed light on some key statements you made about the Dan David Prize.

First of all, the letters and emails you received from those urging you to reject the Prize, were not meant to put you in a situation where, as you said, you feel “caught in a propaganda war between two desperate sides in a tragic and unequal conflict. I also realize that, no matter what I do, some people are going to disagree with my decision and attack me for it”.

The nature of this world we live in is that we are not only private individuals living in a private shell, but also members of a world society built on the principles of human rights and the rule of international law. Some of us attain positions of importance, like yourself, which reinforce and protect these principles for future generations. For that, the world should hopefully be a better place. So you should not be caught in the middle of a conflict, but rather, become a contributor to its resolution.

The Palestine/Israel conflict is a tragic one and we are all part of it, directly or indirectly. It is tragic because one nation, Israel, chooses to occupy and de-humanize millions of Palestinians living under the worst occupation in modern history. You eloquently wrote that you “sympathize with the very bad conditions the people of Gaza are living through due to the blockade, the military actions, and the Egyptian and Israeli walls. Everyone in the world hopes that the two sides involved will give up their inflexible positions and sit down at the negotiating table immediately and work out a settlement that would help the ordinary people who are suffering. The world wants to see fair play.” I totally agree with you, but it is a fact that “the world” you speak about is precisely the world we all belong to as individuals, as groups and as rich and civilized societies. You and millions of others, would have an opinion to make about this world. We live on one planet and have witnessed, unfortunately, many wars in our lifetime and we need to avoid similar ones in the future and to allow next generations to live in peace and harmony.

You go on to state that “the Dan David Prize is a cultural event. It is not, as has been erroneously stated, an “Israeli” prize from the State of Israel, nor is it a prize ‘from Tel Aviv University,’ but one founded and funded by an individual [Dan David]”. It may not be a prize from the State of Israel itself, but nor is it a prize from an individual. This prize and the event are the brainchild of Dan David, founder of the Dan David Foundation which is an enterprise headquartered at Tel Aviv University and funded with a $100 million donation from him. Dan David himself holds the title of Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa from Tel Aviv University and is a member of the Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University. The Dan David Prize is bestowed on its recipients in the presence of Israeli government officials (last year it was Israeli President Shimon Peres when the Prize was awarded to Tony Blair – who left a shameful legacy in Iraq).

Dan David is not a simple individual but an important one for Israel. According to a detailed report in Haaretz newspaper in November 2007 (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/923356.html), Dan David is portrayed as an important philanthropist, more for the State of Israel than for the world. He may not be a household name there but his presence is felt everywhere. According to the report, “David owns 90% of the world automatic photo booth, and all the booths in every mall in Israel”. The Dan David Foundation is also engaged in myriad philanthropic projects in fields as varied as archaeology, medicine, and film.

Your portrayal of Dan David as “an individual” underestimates his real position and power. Despite his upbringing as a simple but smart child in Bucharest where he was born in 1920, Dan David, according to the report, “was active in various movements and became active in Zionism following his experiences in the Second World War”. He has been expanding his activities and “donates more to charity in Israel than to business”. The report continues, “[at]16 he joined a Zionist youth movement and helped organize aliyah from Romania [to Israel], where he continued to live”. Later, after the Romanian authorities allowed him to leave, “he went to relatives in Paris and in August 1960 he, his mother and aunts sailed on the Theodor Herzl to Israel. They lived in Herzliya and later moved to Tel Aviv…[He] now insists that he is an Israeli”.

One cannot but admire Dan David’s business acumen and success. But he is certainly not ‘anybody’ or any ‘individual’.

Finally, you argue that “to boycott an individual simply because of the country he or she lives in would set a very dangerous precedent. Another dangerous precedent is the idea of a cultural boycott”. It so happens that the country in question here is the State of Israel which is conducting daily military activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories reminiscent of Apartheid South Africa. Its institutions whether, cultural, educational, industrial, scientific, judicial, agricultural or military, are part and parcel of the political institution of the State and harbour activities in tune with the policies of the State, working hand in hand to enforce the policies of an illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Thank God you are not ‘any individual’. You are Margaret Atwood. You have an important voice in the literary world. You can have a stronger voice in the humanitarian one. We urge you to make a stand, by rejecting the Dan David Prize, or at the least in the body of your forthcoming Open Letter.

Respectfully yours,

Antoine Raffoul
Coordinator
1948: LEST WE FORGET
www.1948.org.uk

Begin forwarded message:

From: Vivienne Schuster
Date: 12 April 2010 10:02:12 GMT+01:00
To: “‘Nazareth41[at]aol.com'”
Subject: FW: The Dan David Prize

Dear Mr. Raffoul,

Since the Dan David Prize has been announced and I have accepted it. I have received several letters from different groups asking me to reverse my acceptance and boycott this event. I believe that Amitav Ghosh, with whom the prize is shared, has also begun to receive such letters. He and I have been chosen to receive the Dan David Prize for our literary work-work that is said to depict the twentieth century from the vantage point of our respective countries.

I sympathize with the very bad conditions the people of Gaza are living through due to the blockade, the military actions, and the Egyptian and Israeli walls. Everyone in the world hopes that the two sides involved will give up their inflexible positions and sit down at the negotiating table immediately and work out a settlement that would help the ordinary people who are suffering. The world wants to see fair play and humane behaviour, and it wants that more the longer the present situation continues and the worse the conditions become.

However, the Dan David Prize is a cultural event. It is not, as has been erroneously stated, an “Israeli” prize from the State of Israel, nor is it a prize “from Tel Aviv University,” but one founded and funded by an individual, just as the Griffin Prizes in Canada are. To boycott an individual simply because of the country he or she lives in would set a very dangerous precedent. And to boycott a discussion of literature such as the one proposed would be to take the view that literature is always and only some kind of tool of the nation that produces it — a view I strongly reject, just as I reject the view that any book written by a woman is produced by some homogeneous substance called “women.” Books are written by individuals.

Another dangerous precedent is the idea of a cultural boycott. Even those strongly endorsing a financial boycott, such as www.artistespourlapaix.org, Artists For Peace, reject cultural boycotts, which they see as a form of censorship. (See their December 22 posting.) Indeed, such boycotts serve no good purpose if one of the hopes for the future is that peace and normal exchanges will be restored. PEN International, an organization of which I am a Vice President, is in favour of continuing dialogue that crosses borders of all kinds. In this situation, threats to open discussion come from both sides of the wall: consider this report from IFEX: http://www.ifex.org/israel/2004/07/28/israel_palestine_journalists_pressured/

I realize that I am caught in a propaganda war between two desperate sides in a tragic and unequal conflict. I also realize that, no matter what I do, some people are going to disagree with my decision and attack me for it. That being the case, I have chosen to visit, to speak with a variety of people, and – as much as is possible — to see for myself, as I have done in other times and other countries many times before. After that, I will write my own Open Letter – something that I would otherwise be unable to do.

With respect,

Margaret Atwood.

From: Antoine E Raffoul [mailto:Nazareth41[at]aol.com]
Sent: 11 April 2010 11:06
To: info
Subject: The Dan David Prize

I write to urge Margaret Atwood not to attend and accept the Dan David Prize from an Apartheid regime whose policies stand for everything that Margaret’s writings oppose. I do not have to document here everything about this Apartheid regime. Its policies are well documented and are there to see in the everyday life of the Palestinian people.

Stand up to your principles, Margaret, and set an example for other decent intellectuals to follow. A total boycott of Israel in response to its total occupation of Palestine.

I hope you will heed this call.

Your truly

Antoine Raffoul
London

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