A project by the University of Texas to publish an anthology of stories by Middle Eastern women has been canceled after many of the Arab authors threatened to withdraw their contributions if they would be published alongside stories by two Israeli female writers. UT rightly refused to exclude the Israeli writers.
Several of the Arab contributors to the book, Memory of a Promise: Short Stories by Middle Eastern Women, specifically cited the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign as the reason for their decision. They initially requested that the project’s organizer, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, remove the stories written by Israeli women. When the Center refused to do so, citing a commitment to academic freedom and non-discrimination, many of the Arab authors threatened to withdraw their contributions (“virtually all,” according to an e-mail by the Center’s director, Kamran Scot Aghaie), that the Center was forced to kill the project completely.
The boycott effort was spearheaded by a Dubai-based Palestinian novelist named Huzama Habayeb. In an interview with the Gulf News, Habayeb declared that she is “so proud of having the book cancelled” and called it a form of “resistance” to the “Israeli occupation of my homeland.” She had written a letter to other Arab contributors urging them to join the boycott and refuse to share space with “writers who reflect the voice of an obnoxious occupier,” according to an op-ed she published in the Gulf News. In the op-ed, Habayeb describes Israel in blatantly hyperbolic terms, accusing it of “‘genocidal’ practices against Palestinians” and referring to it as a “killer state.”
This incident represents a radical and nefarious turn for supporters of the BDS campaign in that it is an outright rejection of the “Israeli.” Reasonable people may disagree about the efficacy and legitimacy of protests against Israeli government officials or a boycott of Israeli products that are produced in the settlements. This is way beyond that. The two Israeli women who had contributed to the book, Yehudit Hendel and Orly Castel-Bloom, are both accomplished authors who do not represent Israeli policy or the Israeli occupation. Hendel has won numerous prizes and accolades for her literary prowess, including the Jerusalem Prize, The Bialik Prize and the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement. Refusing to share a publication with these illustrious women is extreme and extremely troubling.