James Baldwin once said, “The Palestinians have been paying for the British colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’ and for Europe’s guilty Christian conscience for more than thirty years.” Who knew that Europe’s guilty Christian conscience on Palestine would regress to an extent where speaking of Israel’s occupation would amount to anti-Semitism? The British Pakistani author Kamila Shamsi has become the victim of the guilty Christian conscience for she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). However, hundred of renowned authors protest the decision of the German city of Dortmund to rescind the Nelly Sachs prize that it had awarded to Kamila Shamsi earlier this month.
The decision of the German city of Dortmund reinforces the remarks of James Baldwin who once said, “Whenever Israel is mentioned one is required...to maintain a kind of pious silence.” But can one maintain such a silence given the Israeli atrocities against Palestinian people? No thinking person can remain silent for too long over the cruel treatment of Palestinians in the hands of Israel. The BDS movement that informs the world of Israel’s apartheid practices is now the target of those who want to conflate criticism of Israel’s actions with anti-Semitism. What is the problem with the jury’s decision? While the jury erroneously thinks of the opposition of BDS and its supporters to Israel’s injustices anti-Semitism, more than forty Jew organisations think differently. In a joint statement in support of the BDS movement, the organisations emphasise on the nonviolent nature of the BDS movement. The organisations in their joint statement urge the world to understand the difference “between the hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the other.” But will the jury brush this join-statement as thoughts of self-hating Jews?
Moreover, will the jury take the protest of more than 250 international authors seriously? If the jury sticks to its decision, then the jury members share the guilty Christian conscience of Europe. And the jury members are also playing their part in conflating criticism of Israel’s with anti-Semitism. Doing so not only undermines the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, but it also harms the global fight against anti-Semitism.
Sadly, the jury of the Nelly Sachs prize that should know the clear-cut distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel’s policies against Palestinians has also failed to recognise the distinction between the two issues. The world and the literary circles, especially, need to understand that the constant efforts to protect Israel’s injustices against Palestine are nothing short of converting an oppressed in an oppressor.