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German jury rescinds book award for British author Kamila Shamsie over BDS support 

September 20, 2019 at 11:48 am

British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie [Robert Burdock/Flickr]

British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie has described it as a “matter of outrage” that a Germany jury rescinded a prestigious award over her support for the Palestinian-led boycott of Israel.

According to a report in the Guardian, Shamsie was originally awarded the €15,000 ($16,572) Nelly Sachs prize on 6 September, named after the German-Jewish Nobel laureate and awarded by the German city of Dortmund to a writer promoting “tolerance and reconciliation”.

However, the eight-member jury subsequently declared that they had not been aware of Shamsie’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign since 2014.

Despite acknowledging the author’s “outstanding literary work”, the jury decided to withdraw the award, on the basis that “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”.

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The Guardian noted that in May, “the German parliament passed a motion labelling the BDS movement as antisemitic”, a development slammed by 60 Jewish and Israeli academics, who described it as part of a trend “labelling supporters of Palestinian human rights as antisemitic”.

Palestinians in Gaza protest against German Parliament decision on BDS, in Gaza on 23 May 2019 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Palestinians in Gaza protest against German Parliament decision on BDS, in Gaza on 23 May 2019 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Responding to the reversal, Shamsie said it was a matter of great sadness to her “that a jury should bow to pressure and withdraw a prize from a writer who is exercising her freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.”

She further described it as a “matter of outrage that the BDS movement (modelled on the South African boycott) that campaigns against the government of Israel for its acts of discrimination and brutality against Palestinians should be held up as something shameful and unjust.”

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“The jury has chosen to withdraw the award from me on the basis of my support for a non-violent campaign to bring pressure on the Israeli government,” the author added.

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said it was disturbing that Shamsie was being punished “for her personal opinions”.

“An award…has been withdrawn because the writer personally supports a non-violent movement that is intended to focus attention on respect for universal human rights,” said Ginsberg.

The novelist Ahdaf Soueif said the withdrawal was “a manifestation of a new McCarthyism – on an international scale”.

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“What we need to note, however, is that even in Germany there’s still a struggle going on. So it really is up to each individual and each organisation to choose whether they’re on the side of freedom of conscience and expression or on the side of a reactionary political censorship.”

“Attempting to shut down a conversation on the issue of Palestinian political and human rights – an issue which so many have taken to their hearts – is simply not going to work.”