Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Anti-Israel Booker Prize Judge Quits Over Philip Roth Award

Just a little something that may be a glimpse into the unconscious anti-Israel mind: Carmen Callil, part-Lebanese publisher of Virago Press and Booker Prize judge quit the awarding committee today because she was against giving the International Booker Prize to Philip Roth.

"I don't rate him as a writer. I made it clear I wouldn't have put him on the long list, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn't admire – all the others were fine. He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe."

The 'Jewish Condition' has been the subject of Roth's oeuvre from the very beginning, and although he has a complex relationship with Israel, he is deeply connected to it.

Callil had a run-in with “The Elders” several years ago when she made a very inane comparison between the Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the terror inflicted upon Jews in Vichy France:

From Haaretz:

“A party in honour of Bad Faith, Callil’s account of Louis Darquier, the Vichy official who arranged the deportation of thousands of Jews, was to have taken place at the French embassy in New York last night but was cancelled after the embassy became aware of a paragraph in the postscript of the book. In the postscript Callil says she grew anxious while researching the “helpless terror of the Jews of France” to see “what the Jews of Israel were passing on to the Palestinian people. Like the rest of humanity, the Jews of Israel ‘forget’ the Palestinians. Everyone forgets.”

Callil said the party was canceled after 'a series of letters from various Jewish fundamentalists complaining. They take a view that that no one can say anything about Jews that is not 100 percent complimentary.' She did not identify the letter writers by name. Callil defended the postscript to her book.

'I think the people in Gaza live in poverty huddled up in a very small territory ... because people don't like their government," she said. 'But if you persecute people, they will rise up against you.' Asked if she feels the current Israeli government oppresses Palestinians, she replied, 'Yes.'"
Was this payback time? Just wondering.


**Addendum: I specifically didn't focus on the feminist angle (Callil founded Virago, the premier publisher of women's literature) because I seriously believed that the days of hating Roth for his supposed misogyny were over. However, Marc Tracy in Tablet does provide a very specific example of Callil's personal problem with Roth: 

"The odd judge out, Carmen Callil, is not merely not a fan of the Zuckerberg books. She is the founder of Virago Press, a British house which is the largest publisher in the world dedicated to bringing out women’s writing. Hence, perhaps, “sitting on your face”—a freighted image that implicitly conjures charges of misogyny and/or of an over reliance of sexual scatology (both of which are charges that have been levied plentifully at Roth in the past). Moreover, Halford notes, in 1996 Virago published the English actress Claire Bloom’s memoir, which included a detailed account of her failed marriage to Roth; Roth later fictionalized the experience of having your ex-wife write a memoir about your break-up in his novel I Married A Communist (which is also the name of the ex-wife’s memoir in the book; it’s set in the 1950s, during the Red Scare). “It’s perhaps inevitable that today’s Prize announcement would have been met with drama of some sort,” Halford argues. “But it’s also ridiculous: Agreeing to serve as a judge on a panel with two other people means agreeing to respect the decision of the majority, especially if one has known for months that the decision was a possibility.” As we say on the Internet: Co-sign."

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