PARIS – Arab and Muslim countries are boycotting Paris international book fair, which opens on Friday, March 14, in protest at choosing Israel as the guest of honor while ignoring its war crimes against civilians in the fenced-off Gaza Strip.
"It is not worthy of France, the land of the revolution and human rights, to welcome at its book fair a racist, occupying country," Al-Mutawakel Taha of the Palestinian Writers’ Union told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, March 12.
France’s biggest literary event, Salon du Livre in Paris, dedicated the event’s prestigious "Pavilion of Honour’ to 39 Israeli writers.
The decision touched off Muslim and Arab protests with countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen canceling their participation.
They insist Israel should not be rewarded when it faces international outrage over its aggressions against Palestinian civilians.
The festival, overseen by the government and the national association of publishers, has decided not to include Arabic-language Israeli writers.
Part of Arab and Muslim angers is became the celebrations coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel on the rubble of Palestine.
The French festival has become a celebration of Israel, with the Star of David hanging on the Champs-Elysées and a state visit by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Peres, the first foreign leader to be treated to a state visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy, will inaugurate the book fair, which runs to March 19 and is expected to draw some 200,000 visitors.
Arab and Muslim governments are not the only boycotters of the event, one of the major events on the European literary calendar.
Similar calls have come from writers associations in Arab countries.
The national publishing representatives from francophone Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon canceled their stands despite the importance of the fair for their native writers.
The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) has called on its 50 member states to stay away, asserting Israel’s crimes against humanity make it "unworthy" of such an honor.
Prominent Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan has supported the boycott, saying it is not decent to commemorate Israel when it shows no respect for the Palestinian people.
"Choosing Israel as guest of honor at a time when Palestinians are dying in Gaza is tactless and a blunder," he wrote in Le Monde.
The world silence over the recent Israeli onslaught in the Gaza Strip has hit a raw nerve in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
The ground and air blitz have claimed the lives of nearly 130 Palestinians, including 40 children and 13 women, in less than ten days.
The rest of the dead were mostly civilians.
The massacres came hours after Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilani threatened to turn Gaza into a "bigger Holocaust."
A number of Israeli intellectuals support the boycott.
Historian Ilan Pappé questioned the linkage of the fair with the 60th anniversary of Israel’s establishment.
Benny Ziffer, editor of Haaretz’s literary supplement, protested the Israeli government’s use of the event for propaganda purposes.
(IslamOnline.net and newspapers)