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An Open Letter to Amitav Ghosh


Fifty intellectuals write to Amitav Ghosh asking him to  to reconsider accepting the Dan David prize (to be awarded on 9th May by Israeli president Shimon Peres) and to respond to their appeal to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.


Dear Amitav Ghosh,


Many of us who count ourselves among your readers, admirers and friends have been saddened by your choosing to accept the Dan David prize which you are sharing with Margaret Atwood this year. Both you and Atwood have written extensively on social and political issues, and your positions are important in the ongoing debate on the economic, cultural and academic boycott campaign in support of the Palestinian cause.


In rejecting the appeals of a number of organisations, including those from Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), students’ organisations and some Israeli groups, you have argued on two different counts. One is that a boycott of Israel is tactically wrong; the other is that cultural and academic institutions should not be boycotted or embargoed.


Let us take the first point. We are sure you agree that the present situation calls for response – to the continuing siege of Gaza; the brutal occupation regime in which Palestinians have to cross military checkpoints every day; and the policies of the apartheid state of Israel in which Arab and Jewish members have different rights. The options for resistance open to the Palestinians are limited, given this situation on the ground. But in any case, the tactics to be attempted is for the Palestinians to decide; and the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society is calling for a boycott of Israel. We, who are neither participants in their struggle nor living under occupation, can best respond by being part of the international solidarity backing their struggle.


The late Tanya Reinhart, the distinguished Israeli academic, made this point quite clearly: “If continuing support to the Israeli academia is what the Palestinian academia considers best for its future, we should hear it from them. What I hear from my comrades in the Palestinian academia is only a full and unequivocal support for the boycott.”


The second point you raise is that cultural and academic institutions should not be boycotted because they are independent of the state. Apart from the complicity of Tel Aviv University in the occupation regime (which has been chronicled by the PACBI in their letter to you ), the Dan David prize is presided over by Shimon Peres, the President of Israel.


The boycott call is restricted to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Nobody is arguing that individuals should be boycotted as you seem to believe. Nor is there a call for not travelling to Israel. So the comparison that you make between travelling to Myanmar and accepting the Dan David prize does not appear relevant. Also, if we are to accept your argument against the boycott of cultural and academic institutions, we would then have to condemn the academic boycott used against South Africa. We are sure that this is not an argument you would advance, knowing the value this boycott had for the South African movement.


In fact, responding to their call for a boycott is one clear way to let the Palestinians know that we have heard their call for support from the international community. This is definitely something we can indeed do to assure the Palestinians that they are not alone. There is still time for you to reconsider accepting the prize. We do hope you will respond to our appeal to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.



Yours sincerely,

  1. Achin Vanaik

  2. Aditya Nigam

  3. A.G.Krishna Menon

  4. Aijaz Ahmad

  5. A.K.Shiva Kumar

  6. Ania Loomba

  7. Anuradha Chenoy

  8. Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal

  9. Arunima G.

  10. Ayesha Kidwai

  11. C.P.Chandrasekhar

  12. Dinesh Abrol

  13. Ellen Driscoll

  14. Farida Khan

  15. Githa Hariharan

  16. Hilary Rose

  17. Imrana Qadeer

  18. Indu Chandrasekhar

  19. Janaki Abraham

  20. Janaki Nair

  21. Jayati Ghosh

  22. Kalpana Khosla

  23. Kamal Mitra Chenoy

  24. Lakshmi Subramaniam

  25. Manisha Sethi

  26. Mary John

  27. Meredeth Turshen

  28. Mohan Rao

  29. Nivedita Menon

  30. Pamela Philipose

  31. Patricia Jeffery

  32. Prabhat Patnaik

  33. Praful Bidwai

  34. Pratiksha Baxi

  35. Rahul Roy

  36. Rajni Palriwala

  37. Rita Manchanda

  38. Ritu Menon

  39. Romi Khosla

  40. S.Anand

  41. Sarah Hodges

  42. Satish Deshpande

  43. Seema Mustafa

  44. Steve Hughes

  45. Sumanta Banerjee

  46. Uma Chakravarthy

  47. Upendra Baxi

  48. Urvashi Butalia

  49. Vina Mazumdar

  50. Zoya Hasan


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