Jewish Journal


February 2, 2012

Three quick comments on Paul Auster, Turkey and Israel



Paul Auster (Photo: Reuters)

1. One has to admire author Paul Auster’s courageous stand. Responding to the verbal attack by the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Auster insisted that comparisons between Turkey and Israel have no validity:

“Whatever the Prime Minister might think about the state of Israel, the fact is that free speech exists there and no writers or journalists are in jail.”

He is right: Israel in a place in which free speech was never under serious threat, alarmist views notwithstanding.

2. And anyway, it is not at all clear why Erdogan would respond to Auster’s criticism by invoking Israel’s alleged sins. Suppose Israel is a terrible country, does it make Turkey better? Does it make Turkey’s imprisonment of journalists more justified?

3. While admiring Auster’s unabashed defense of Israel (and make no mistake, Auster is no great fan of Israel’s current policies), his decision to refrain from traveling to Turkey is not an obvious one. Israel is constantly battling against an international campaign of a similar nature - regularly annoyed by authors, professors and artists who decide against visiting Israel because they don’t agree with Israel’s policies. Should it cheer such a decision aimed at the policies of other countries? Is Turkey really a place deserving of such a boycott?

I must say that I have doubts and am somewhat conflicted: On the one hand, it is good to have someone who is gutsy enough to expose the hypocrisy of all Israel-boycotters. On the other hand, maybe visiting Turkey and speaking in Turkey, and strengthening Turkey’s more moderate voices, is the way to go.

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