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Ian McEwan to accept controversial literary award

Ian McEwan is no stranger to literary awards, having received the Man Booker Prize, the Whitbread Award, the Prix Femina Étranger, among others. But his most recent honour comes with controversy attached.

The Guardian is reporting that McEwan will travel to Israel to accept the Jerusalem Award, presented biannually to writers who deal with “themes of individual freedom in society.” The controversy surrounds the fact that accepting the award is seen by some as a tacit endorsement of Israel. Speaking to the Guardian, McEwan said he feels a literary award should remain separate from the politics of the country bestowing it, and underlined the fact that it was the Jerusalem Book Fair, not the state of Israel, that sponsors the prize. He went on:

I am not a supporter of the Israeli settler movement, nor of Hamas. I would align myself in the middle of a great many of my Israeli friends who despair that there will ever be peace while the settlements continue. I support the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s call for a freeze on the settlements. But I also have no time for Hamas lobbing missiles into Israel either.

At least one person would beg to differ. Also quoted in the Guardian, Betty Hunter, general secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said:

We welcome Ian McEwan’s statement about his disapproval of the settlements but we would point out that accepting this prestigious prize is a way of giving support to the Israeli government, which is dedicated to pursuing illegal expulsion policies against the Palestinian people. His acceptance will be used as a public relations exercise by the Israeli government.

The prize’s previous recipient, Haruki Murakami, also accepted the award, although various factions urged him not to. “I like to do exactly the opposite of what I am told,” Murakami said. “It’s in my nature as a novelist.”