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Arab authors boycott UAE book awards due to ties with Israel 

November 23, 2020 at 4:36 pm

Books displayed during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair on 30 April 2014 [KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images]

A number of Arab authors are boycotting the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in protest against Abu Dhabi’s decision to normalise ties with Israel. Seventeen former IPAF winners, jury members and shortlisted authors appealed to the trustees of the event demanding a halt to Emirati funding of the prize to “maintain its independence.”

The UAE and Bahrain signed normalisation deals with the occupation in August, becoming the third and fourth Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The deals have drawn widespread condemnation from Palestinians, who say the accords ignore their rights and do not serve the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian academic and author Khaled Hroub, an IPAF founding member, stressed that he can no longer be affiliated with the award financed by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism. Denouncing the UAE-Israel normalisation, he labelled it as a “shocking and sad trade-off” for the Palestinians’ rights.

“I used to have great cultural contacts in the UAE over the years, had many Emirati friends and took part in many activities, book fairs and festivals in the country,” said Hroub. “These activities have certainly contributed to the Arab cultural scene. But all this has now been thrown into uncertainty and replaced by Israel. What do you learn culturally, educationally and artistically from the states that are forcing and oppressing the entire population?”

READ: Priorities are changing in the Middle East, with fewer temptations to normalise with Israel

IPAF was launched in Abu Dhabi in 2007 in collaboration with the Booker Prize Foundation, a British charity that manages its own prestigious annual fiction award.

Meanwhile, Israel approved a mutual visa exemption agreement with the UAE during a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

“This is the first Arab country with which we have signed such an agreement,” Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said before the vote. “It will open and strengthen the ties between the countries such as the economic ties. I believe that the citizens of Israel and the whole world see the tremendous change we are making in our region.”