March 27, 2008

Misreading the Paris Book Fair Boycott

Arabists have failed once again. Via FrontPageMag:

Israel was the guest of honor at this year’s Salon du Livre inParis, provoking a Muslim boycott which in turn provoked atorrent of well-mannered reprobation. Egyptian novelist Alaa el-Aswani, disheartened that France would honor “a country guilty of crimes against humanity,” vowed to temper his presence by distributing photos of Palestinian and Lebanese children, victims of “Israel’s policies.” La Fabrique, a small press specialized in post-Zionism that has always snubbed the Book Fair, decided to attend in an act of résistance and display large format photos of Palestinian suffering. A. B.Yehoshua, interviewed on France 2, said he hopes next year’shonored guest will be the independent state of Palestine.

Despite an 8% drop in attendance, 165,300 people visited the Salon between 12-19 March. Israeli president Shimon Peres, on a state visit to France, inaugurated the Book Fair. A small cohort of protesters distributed tracts. The exhibition hall was evacuated only once, at 5 PM on Sunday, apparently for a (false)bomb alert.

The Israeli stand, crowned with Yisroel in bold Hebrew letters, was a haven of peace and a beehive of activity. Every inch of space around the book tables was occupied, every encounter with one of the 39 featured writers was filled to overflowing, 21,000 books were sold in 6 days.

It seemed attimes that all the energy of the vast exhibition hall gravitated to the bright, warm, welcoming oasis of Israel. Writers, organizers, translators, interpreters, and the French publishers of the invited writers were delighted.

The absence of Muslim countries, from the UAE to Yemen, was neither audible nor visible. By contrast, Israel was ever-present in literary magazines, literary sections of national papers, and on the airwaves. If the purpose of the boycott was to close down the show, packup the books, and send the Israelis home in disgrace, it was a complete failure.