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Literati want Israeli backing for New York festival dropped

This file photo shows a view of the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC, the United States.

More than 100 prominent writers and literary figures have written to PEN American Center, urging it to reject Israeli support for a festival in New York at the end of this month.

In a letter published online, they have denounced the Israeli embassy’s sponsorship of PEN’s seven-day annual World Voices Festival (PWVF).

“It is deeply regrettable that the festival has chosen to accept sponsorship from Israel, even as it intensifies its decades-long denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people, including the frequent targeting of Palestinian writers and journalists,” reads the letter.

In the event's promotional materials, PEN America lists the Israeli embassy as a “champion” of the festival.

The letter said both Palestinian and international journalists and writers face heightened levels of repression by the Tel Aviv regime.

It cited "a broader pattern of Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinian artists and cultural workers as well as the suppression of voices supportive of Palestinian rights.”

Among the writers who have signed onto the letter are Pulitzer Prize winners Alice Walker, Richard Ford and Junot Diaz, plus award-winning author Louise Erdrich.

Pulitzer Prize winning US writer Alice Walker (AP photo)

The letter was sent to PEN American Center by Adalah, a non-profit group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“As a PEN member, I want this organization that is supposed to be a champion of writers’ rights to stand up for Palestinian writers, academics and students who are suffering under a repressive Israeli regime that denies their right to freedom of expression,” said Walker.

The Israeli embassy has reportedly participated in the festival since 2006 as part of Tel Aviv's efforts to improve its aggressive image around the world, especially in the aftermath of its wars on the Gaza Strip.

The PEN American Center has come under fire by other writers before.

In 2015, more than 200 writers protested after it gave a freedom of expression award to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the wake of the attack on its Paris offices earlier that year.

In a letter, they said that by selecting Charlie Hebdo, PEN was “valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the western world.”

Israeli mayor faces angry students 

On Wednesday, al-Quds (Jerusalem) Mayor Nir Barkat faced anti-Israel protesters during his public appearance at a California university.

Barkat was scheduled to speak at San Francisco State University but he was shouted down by the Students for Justice in Palestine.

Protesters waved the Palestinian flag and chanted "Long live the Intifada." Other slogans included "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."

Barkat eventually left the podium to sit among a few audience members.

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