Kamila Shamsie: Author stripped of book award over support for Israel boycott

Writer described withdrawal as a 'matter of outrage'

Ellie Harrison
Friday 20 September 2019 09:45
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Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie

The German jury of the Nelly Sachs book prize has withdrawn its decision to honour Kamila Shamsie with the award, due to her ongoing support for the Boycott, Diverstment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Earlier this month, the panel had decided to crown the British-Pakistani writer as their latest winner, with praise for how her writing is “building bridges between societies”. However, when they discovered Shamsie supported the BDS movement, they opted to strip her of the accolade.

“With its vote for the British writer Kamila Shamsie… the jury honoured the author’s outstanding literary work,” they said.

“At that time, despite prior research, the members of the jury were not aware that the author has been participating in the boycott measures against the Israeli government for its Palestinian policies since 2014.”

The Nelly Sachs prize is worth €15,000 (£13,000) and champions tolerance, reconciliation and improving cultural relations, with Margaret Atwood among the previous winners.

“Shamsie’s political positioning to actively participate in the cultural boycott as part of the BDS campaign… is clearly in contradiction to the statutory objectives of the award,” said the jury.

“The cultural boycott does not transcend borders, but affects the whole of Israeli society regardless of its actual political and cultural heterogeneity. Kamila Shamsie’s work is also withheld from the Israeli population in this way.

“This contrasts with the claim of the Nelly Sachs prize to proclaim and exemplify reconciliation among peoples and cultures. The jury regrets the situation in every respect."

Earlier this year, the German parliament passed a motion deeming the BDS movement antisemitic, describing it as “reminiscent of the most terrible chapter in German history”.

Shamsie called the removal of her award a “matter of outrage” on Twitter, adding that the boycott should not be “held up as something shameful and unjust”.

The former Women’s prize for fiction winner also said she will not allow her work to be published in Israel “on the basis that there is no Israeli publisher who is completely unentangled from the state”.

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