In an interview conducted in Jerusalem with the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare for Agence France-Presse, it was proposed to the recipient of Israel’s ‘Freedom of the Individual in Society’ 2015 award that, ‘Here in Jerusalem, the Palestinians could object that their freedom is restricted,’ to which he responded:

I haven’t asked myself the question. I am a writer. I create literature. I come from one of the rare countries in the world that helped the Jews during the war […]. The [Albanian] population has always defended the Jews, under the monarchy, under communism, after communism. That is why I have not thought about that other problem here (that of the Palestinians).

Kadare clearly feels his self-image is not enhanced by any reflections on the suffering of Palestinians, as it is when linking his national identity with the salvation of European Jews. Never has the historical murder of millions been so beneficial to an artist’s brand. In such a context, a contemporary injustice is merely inconvenient:

In the press conference held before the award ceremony at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, human rights defender and Israeli author, Ilana Hammerman asked Kadare if he was aware of the 300,000 people – meaning Palestinians – ‘living here [in Jerusalem] who do not have human rights.’ Kadare responded,

I didn’t come here for this. I came here to receive a literary prize, not to deal with local problems.

The author’s refusal to address the hypocrisy of a prize for ‘freedom’ being awarded by a municipality responsible for the ongoing ethnic cleansing of half of its inhabitants was picked up with glee by Arutz Sheva, Israel’s national news outlet:

Kadare attempted to steer clear of politics altogether – even resisting the determined prodding of a Haaretz journalist who, true to form, did her very best to direct the (totally unrelated) conversation towards criticism of Israel’s policies. […]

Kadare also noted that while Albania and Israel may be different in many ways, both their peoples share in common the experience of “fighting for survival” in a sometimes hostile neighborhood.

kadare-cmimi-cifutJerusalem is a hostile neighbourhood – for Palestinians. It is presided over by Mayor Nir Barkat who handed the prize to Kadare on Sunday’s ceremony (pictured, left), in the presence of Israeli President Reuvan Rivlin: an act calculated to improve Israel’s brand.

For this reason, last year’s prize-winner Antonio Muñoz Molina received a letter from writers and artists asking him to reject an award that legitimises ‘occupation and Apartheid.’

imgresIt’s an appeal he ignored; here’s a picture (right) of Israeli officials similarly fawning over Muñoz Molina in 2014.

The 2011 recipient, Ian McEwan did address ‘the local problem’ of the Palestinians, in an acceptance speech that, in the words of Jews sans Frontieres‘ Gabriel Ash ‘was racist, white supremacist, misleading, confused, and Islamophobic, but it was also a rare across the board condemnation of Israel as a political entity from a purely liberal perspective. McEwan went where almost no imperial liberal had gone before, even condemning Israel’s discriminatory Right of Return for Jews. It was evident from his own words that he didn’t go there because he wanted to, but because he felt compelled by the pressure building up over his acceptance of the tainted prize. That’s good.’

By keeping up the pressure on artists to reject Israeli state accolades, we can make it harder for prize-winner and -giver alike to comfortably indulge these self-congratulatory tendencies in the context of apartheid.