An Open Letter to Amitav Ghosh

1-May-2010

Fifty intellectuals write to Amitav Ghosh asking him to to reconsider accepting the Dan David prize (to be awarded on 9th May by Israeli president Shimon Peres) and to respond to their appeal to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Dear Amitav Ghosh,

Many of us who count ourselves among your readers, admirers and friends have been saddened by your choosing to accept the Dan David prize which you are sharing with Margaret Atwood this year. Both you and Atwood have written extensively on social and political issues, and your positions are important in the ongoing debate on the economic, cultural and academic boycott campaign in support of the Palestinian cause.

In rejecting the appeals of a number of organisations, including those from Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), students’ organisations and some Israeli groups, you have argued on two different counts. One is that a boycott of Israel is tactically wrong; the other is that cultural and academic institutions should not be boycotted or embargoed.

Let us take the first point. We are sure you agree that the present situation calls for response – to the continuing siege of Gaza; the brutal occupation regime in which Palestinians have to cross military checkpoints every day; and the policies of the apartheid state of Israel in which Arab and Jewish members have different rights. The options for resistance open to the Palestinians are limited, given this situation on the ground. But in any case, the tactics to be attempted is for the Palestinians to decide; and the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society is calling for a boycott of Israel. We, who are neither participants in their struggle nor living under occupation, can best respond by being part of the international solidarity backing their struggle.

The late Tanya Reinhart, the distinguished Israeli academic, made this point quite clearly: “If continuing support to the Israeli academia is what the Palestinian academia considers best for its future, we should hear it from them. What I hear from my comrades in the Palestinian academia is only a full and unequivocal support for the boycott.”

The second point you raise is that cultural and academic institutions should not be boycotted because they are independent of the state. Apart from the complicity of Tel Aviv University in the occupation regime (which has been chronicled by the PACBI in their letter to you ), the Dan David prize is presided over by Shimon Peres, the President of Israel.

The boycott call is restricted to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Nobody is arguing that individuals should be boycotted as you seem to believe. Nor is there a call for not travelling to Israel. So the comparison that you make between travelling to Myanmar and accepting the Dan David prize does not appear relevant. Also, if we are to accept your argument against the boycott of cultural and academic institutions, we would then have to condemn the academic boycott used against South Africa. We are sure that this is not an argument you would advance, knowing the value this boycott had for the South African movement.

In fact, responding to their call for a boycott is one clear way to let the Palestinians know that we have heard their call for support from the international community. This is definitely something we can indeed do to assure the Palestinians that they are not alone. There is still time for you to reconsider accepting the prize. We do hope you will respond to our appeal to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Yours sincerely,

1. Achin Vanaik
2. Aditya Nigam
3. A.G.Krishna Menon
4. Aijaz Ahmad
5. A.K.Shiva Kumar
6. Ania Loomba
7. Anuradha Chenoy
8. Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
9. Arunima G.
10. Ayesha Kidwai
11. C.P.Chandrasekhar
12. Dinesh Abrol
13. Ellen Driscoll
14. Farida Khan
15. Githa Hariharan
16. Hilary Rose
17. Imrana Qadeer
18. Indu Chandrasekhar
19. Janaki Abraham
20. Janaki Nair
21. Jayati Ghosh
22. Kalpana Khosla
23. Kamal Mitra Chenoy
24. Lakshmi Subramaniam
25. Manisha Sethi
26. Mary John
27. Meredeth Turshen
28. Mohan Rao
29. Nivedita Menon
30. Pamela Philipose
31. Patricia Jeffery
32. Prabhat Patnaik
33. Praful Bidwai
34. Pratiksha Baxi
35. Rahul Roy
36. Rajni Palriwala
37. Rita Manchanda
38. Ritu Menon
39. Romi Khosla
40. S. Anand
41. Sarah Hodges
42. Satish Deshpande
43. Seema Mustafa
44. Steve Hughes
45. Sumanta Banerjee
46. Uma Chakravarthy
47. Upendra Baxi
48. Urvashi Butalia
49. Vina Mazumdar
50. Zoya Hasan

I'm a teacher, writer, and activist based in Bangalore. I am dedicated to various issues including #BDS and Palestine, living Zero Waste, and reversing the effects of climate change.

Posted in Cultural Boycott
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