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McEwan defends decision to accept Jerusalem Prize

JTA

January 26, 2011 | 2:52 pm

British author Ian McEwan defended his decision to accept Israel’s Jerusalem Prize.

Writing in the the Guardian newspaper Wednesday, McEwan admitted his concerns “about Israel and the situation of the Palestinians, which is worse than ever.” However, he maintained that he would go to Jerusalem to accept the prize, Israel’s highest literary honor for foreign writers.

“I’m for finding out for myself, and for dialogue, engagement, and looking for ways in which literature, especially fiction, with its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides,” McEwan wrote.

The author of “Amsterdam,” “Atonement” and “On Chesil Beach,” McEwan is one of Britain’s most celebrated contemporary writers. He was responding to a letter in the Guardian two days before from British Writers in Support of Palestine, a group which supports the cultural and economic boycott of Israel. The group said its members “deeply regret” McEwan’s decision to accept “this corrupt and cynical honor.”

In defending his decision, McEwan invoked previous recipients of the prize, which is given biennially to an author whose works best exemplify the “freedom of the individual in society.”

“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 BWISP will have the humility to accept that these writers had at least as much concern for freedom and human dignity as they do themselves. Their ‘line’ is not the only one. Courtesy obliges them to respect my decision to go to Jerusalem, as I would theirs to stay away.”

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