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Ian McEwan responds to critics of controversial award

Last week, Quillblog pointed to the controversy surrounding acclaimed novelist Ian McEwan’s decision to travel to the Jerusalem Book Fair, where he will be presented with the Jerusalem Award, given biannually to writers whose work addresses “themes of individual freedom in society.”

At the time, several people had voiced concern that accepting the award in person was tantamount to endorsing Israel and its policy of resettlement in the Middle East. On Monday, a group of 20 pro-Palestinian writers, including novelist John Berger and poet Naomi Foyle, wrote a letter to the Guardian, decrying the Jerusalem Award as “a cruel joke and a propaganda tool for the Israeli state,” and calling into question the autonomy of the Jerusalem Book Fair, which they say “is organised by the … municipality, a key institution of the Israeli state and a major instrument in the illegal colonisation of East Jerusalem.”

McEwan, never known as a shrinking violet, fired back at his critics, saying that he prefers “dialogue, engagement, and looking for ways in which literature, especially fiction, with its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides” to squabbles about the potential message his accepting the controversial award might send.

The Guardian quotes McEwan addressing the 20 signatories of Monday’s letter, who call themselves British Writers in Support of Palestine:

As for the Jerusalem prize itself, its list of previous recipients is eloquent enough. Bertrand Russell, Milan Kundera, Susan Sontag, Arthur Miller, Simone de Beauvoir “ I hope you will have the humility to accept that these writers had at least as much concern for freedom and human dignity as you do yourselves. Your “line” is not the only one. Courtesy obliges you to respect my decision, as I would yours to stay away.