Translator of Grossman’s winning novel to donate prize money to B’Tselem
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Translator of Grossman’s winning novel to donate prize money to B’Tselem

In acceptance speech for Man Booker International Prize, Jessica Cohen commends Israeli human rights group for exposing 'uncomfortable truths'

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

US translator Jessica Cohen (L) and Israeli author David Grossman (R) pose for a photograph with his book A Horse Walks Into a Bar at the shortlist photocall for the Man Booker International Prize at St James' Church in London on June 13, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Daniel Leal-Olivas)
US translator Jessica Cohen (L) and Israeli author David Grossman (R) pose for a photograph with his book A Horse Walks Into a Bar at the shortlist photocall for the Man Booker International Prize at St James' Church in London on June 13, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Daniel Leal-Olivas)

The translator of David Grossman’s award-winning novel announced Wednesday that she would be donating half of her Man Booker International Prize money to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which operates in the West Bank.

Jessica Cohen translated Grossman’s “A Horse Walks into a Bar,” which became the first Israeli work ever awarded the prestigious prize. The pair will share the £50,000 ($64,000) winnings.

Set in a Netanya comedy club, the story focuses on an embittered comedian falling apart on stage. Grossman beat out another renowned Israeli author, Amos Oz, who was nominated for his book “Judas.”

Cohen was born in England, raised in Israel and lives in Denver, and has translated Grossman as well as Etgar Keret, Rutu Modan, Dorit Rabinyan and others.

In her acceptance speech at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Cohen did not shy away from sharing her views on current affairs coming out of Israel. “I’m not going to waste my breath hoping for change to come from the current Israeli administration, but I do hope that Israeli and Palestinian people can rekindle whatever shred of humanism and empathy they still have,” she said.

Cohen then announced that she would be donating half of her prize money to the left-wing NGO. “Its not easy to tell unflattering and uncomfortable truths, and it’s certainly not easy to hear them, but it is essential, not only in literature but in life, and I hope that organizations like B’Tselem can continue to do so,” she said.

#MBI2017 winner announcement live from the Victoria and Albert Museum #FinestFiction

Posted by The Man Booker Prize on trešdiena, 2017. gada 14. jūnijs

B’Tselem uses Palestinian photographers and videographers to document the conduct of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. In March, one of the group’s volunteers, Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, filmed IDF soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria shooting a disarmed, injured Palestinian in the head after he carried out a stabbing attack in Hebron. That footage sparked a nationwide debate over excessive force and IDF values.

For his part, Grossman has long supported the group. In a 2012 letter endorsing B’Tselem’s campaign to provide additional cameras to Palestinians in the West Bank, the author referred to the organization’s work as a “real source of pride.”

Palestinian volunteers with the B'Tselem human rights organization learn how to use video cameras to document the actions of the IDF and Israeli settlers in the West Bank, in 2014. (B'Tselem/CC BY 4.0)
Palestinian volunteers with the B’Tselem human rights organization learn how to use video cameras to document the actions of the IDF and Israeli settlers in the West Bank, in 2014. (B’Tselem/CC BY 4.0)

The group’s executive director Hagai El-Ad thanked the translator and congratulated the pair on the award in a Thursday Facebook post. He reiterated Cohen’s message on exposing “uncomfortable truths,” adding, “With your help, and with the help of many others, we will continue to do just that.”

The Man Booker Prize is sponsored by the Man Group, an active investment management firm that also sponsors the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The international version of the award, which Grossman and Cohen won, is open to books published in any language that have been translated into English.

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