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Boycotting the Paris book fair over Israel?

March 2, 2008 | 11:00 am

A decision to make Israel the guest of honor at the upcoming Paris book fair has angered Muslim countries around the world. On Saturday, Iranian authorities announced that they would boycott the five-day book fair.

Iran wasn't the first country to opt out of the fair. It may not be the last.

The Salon du Livre is a huge event in France and on the international book publishing circuit. The festival, which begins March 14, draws thousands of authors from around the world. (Full disclosure: My wife will be promoting her book at the fair.) This year, about 39 writers from Israel will be honored on the occasion of the Jewish state's 60th anniversary.

"Iran was a regular participant of Paris book fair each year but this time it has refused to take part in the event protesting at the presence of the Zionist regime," Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Ali-Pour told the Islamic Republic News Agency.

But vehemently anti-Israeli Iran is merely jumping on the bandwagon as far as boycotting the bookworm fete. Lebanon announced Wednesday that it would stay away from the confab. 

"Lebanon will not participate this year in protest at the cultural event's organizers' decision to select Israel as guest of honor," Culture Minister Tarek Mitri announced.

That was a big blow for France, which considers francophilic Lebanon its cultural backyard. On Tuesday, the 50-nation Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization called on all Islamic states to boycott the event.

"The crimes against humanity that Israel is perpetrating in the Palestinian territories ... constitute, in themselves, a strong condemnation of Israel, making it unworthy of being welcomed as a guest of honor at an international book fair," the group said.

The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported last week that representatives of 25 professional associations in Cairo sent the French Foreign Ministry a note protesting the decision to make Israel the guest of honor because of the Jewish state's alleged violations of Palestinian rights over its 60 years.

Literary and publishing groups in francophonic Tunisia and Algeria as well as the Palestinian territories and Yemen have announced decisions to stay away from the fair.

The boycott might strike some as silly, especially because the "honoring Israel" event is one of about 10 such forums at the fair. Israeli writers and artists tend to be doves, often highly critical of their government's treatment of Palestinians.

On the other hand, some say it's kind of weird to honor a country on its 60th birthday. Why not wait until 75 or 100 years? The main pavilion at the festival will be draped in Israeli flags.

One commentator at the Lebanese Inner Circle blog lambasted both the French and the Arabs for the affair:

So, why would France make such a big deal of Israel’s 60th aniversary? Or worse yet, why would Lebanon make such a big issue on France’s decision? ... It has become very common to boost an issue by banning or boycotting it. I wonder who benefits? Certainly not the Lebanese.

Borzou Daragahi in Baghdad

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