'Your participation would imply a position we don't share'

Austrian literary festival drops Bosnian author who protested criticism of Oct. 7

Separately, a children’s book fair in Italy indicates it will ignore a petition to boycott Israel signed by top artists

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Lana Bastašić meets readers at a literary event in Berlin, Germany, on September 14, 2023. (Elena Ternovaja/Wikimedia Commons)
Lana Bastašić meets readers at a literary event in Berlin, Germany, on September 14, 2023. (Elena Ternovaja/Wikimedia Commons)

A literary festival in Austria disinvited a Bosnian author for accusing Israel of genocide and accusing Germany of covering up for it under the guise of fighting antisemitism. Separately, a major children’s book fair in Bologna, Italy, appeared to dismiss a writers’ petition to ban Israelis.

These developments this week demonstrate how some cultural institutions in Western Europe are resisting artists’ growing calls for action against Israel and its allies in connection with the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Lana Bastašić on Tuesday shared on Instagram the letter of her disinvitation from the Literature Festival Saltzburg and the cancelation of her residency there.

“Your stay at Literaturhaus NO and participation in the Literature Festival Salzburg would inevitably imply a positioning on our part that we do not wish for,” the letter said.

Last month, Bastašić, who won the 2020 EU prize for literature for her novel “Catch the Rabbit,” left her German publisher, S. Fischer, over its reference to Hamas’s October 7 massacre in the context of the commitment of the publishing house, founded by a Jew who fled the Nazis, to fighting antisemitism and totalitarianism.

The text “is morally questionable because it seems blind and deaf to the suffering of the Palestinian people in the same region,” Bastašić wrote in a post explaining her decision. The publisher’s text, which doesn’t mention Israel, also makes the world “more dangerous” for Jews, she argued, “by equating every single Jew with the current government of Israel.”

French writer Annie Ernaux in Guadalajara, Mexico, December 5, 2019. (Ulises Ruiz/AFP)

S. Fischer was making “every single Muslim immigrant” in Germany “unsafe and subject to deportation,” she added in the post, which did not elaborate on this point.

Bastašić has also called for a boycott of Germany over its support of Israel in the conflict with Hamas. Last month, French Nobel Prize-winning writer Annie Ernaux also joined a cultural boycott of Germany, headlined “Strike Germany,” over the war.

Bastašić replied to the Saltzburg festival’s disinvitation by saying she would not want to attend due to what she regards as their censorial policies. “You are not literature. Your money is not literature. S. Fischer is not literature. Germany is not literature. And we, the writers, will remember,” she added.

Separately, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which is one of that sector’s main events, indicated that it would not comply with a petition by 1,500 people, including some of the world’s leading authors, illustrators and marketers of children’s books, to boycott Israel at the fair in April.

People read during the International Children’s book fair on April 5, 2017 in Bologna, Italy. (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

“This year as well, BCBF reaffirms its commitment to welcoming the participation of all publishers, authors and illustrators who wish to contribute in a peaceful, creative and positive manner to the larger publishing community, and to host speakers from all corners of the world,” a spokesperson for the book fair wrote in a statement that he sent to The Times of Israel following a query on the petition.

Undersigned by New York Times bestselling authors Joanna Ho and Sajidah “S.K.” Ali, the petition was signed by many other prominent names in the industry, including book marketer Samantha Missingham from the United Kingdom; British author Chris Haughton; Irish writer Sinéad O’Hart; illustrator Rebecca Green from the United States; and British illustrator Jamie Littler.

They wrote to the book fair that they urge it to “suspend participation from the occupying state of Israel, which is carrying out these crimes against humanity with impunity, until Palestine is liberated.”

On October 7, about 3,000 Hamas terrorists raided Israeli towns and cities, murdering some 1,200 people and wounding thousands more. The massacre was accompanied by rape, torture and mutilations. Hamas also abducted 253 people, about half of whom are presumed to still be held hostage.

In response Israel invaded Gaza, where some 26,000 people have been killed in the fighting, according to Gaza medical sources. The unverified statistics don’t differentiate between civilians and terrorists, of whom Israel said it has killed some 10,000.

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