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A Letter of Resignation

To the Editors:

Together with celebrations of Israel’s 40th Anniversary, an International Poetry Festival was announced, to be run by a government-sponsored authority. Heading the advisory committee was the prominent poet Natan Zach. After a time Zach and the Israeli literary critic Nissim Calderon concluded that the Festival could not be separated from the Israeli government’s current activities on the West Bank and they therefore resigned from the committee. Their action aroused much controversy in Israeli cultural circles. The six remaining members of the Committee also resigned. Three of them, including the poet Dahlia Ravikovitch, said their responses were more or less in line with those stated by Zach and Calderon. Israel’s most prominent Arab poets announced meanwhile that they would boycott the Festival. Finally, the Festival was canceled.

Following is the text of the letter of resignation sent by Zach and Calderon.

Irving Howe

New York City

As members of the advisory committee of the International Poetry Festival due to take place in Israel in the coming June, within the framework of the State of Israel’s 40th anniversary, we hereby submit our resignation and declare that we will not take part in the intended festivities.

This is no time for festivals in Israel. Until recently we believed, notwithstanding many doubts and reservations, that a way could be found to distinguish, in this context, between Hebrew literature and the institutions and activities of the state, thus regarding the festival merely as a tribute to Hebrew poetry. Events of recent weeks have however convinced us that this was no longer possible.

A Government—intending thereby both leading parties forming it at present—which razes to the ground homes of its civilian citizens, exiles such citizens from its territory without trial, uses tear gas against women, causes the death of boys and girls in what may only be described as State Terror; a Government allowing falanges of armed settlers to strike terror amongst a civilian population living on its lands and in its country of birth—such a Government no longer merits that poets come to a festivity hosted by it to read there from their poems.

We have reached the conclusion that the planned poetry festival may, despite all our intentions, be construed as an act of support for and identification with an authority that has long since transgressed against all the so-called Red Lines beyond which the voice of poetry may no longer be heard. We have reached the lamentable conclusion that even a person’s natural desire to celebrate his or her country’s national holiday, being the holiday of all citizens, may at present be misjudged as acquiescence with what is now taking place within the boundaries of the Jewish state and the Arab territories occupied by it during the 1967 war.

Therefore, we hereby call upon all poets invited by us to the Festival, both from inside the country and from abroad, to join us in boycotting the forthcoming Poetry Festival in Israel.

We hereby extend our sincerest apologies to all poets and writers who collaborated with us on this project, whether by helping us organize it or by agreeing to take part in it, and who may now feel themselves offended by our action. In our defense we can only say that, unfortunately, recent events have left us no choice but to resort to such drastic action.

Natan Zach

Nissim Calderon

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