"This past week the writers’ organization PEN held its World Voices Festival in New York and one of its sponsors/”champions” was the Israeli government. More than 200 writers had urged PEN to give back that money, among them Marilyn Hacker, Junot Diaz, Alice Walker and Richard Ford, citing Israel’s “decades-long denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people, including the frequent targeting of Palestinian writers and journalistsrecord on Palestinian writers.”
But PEN’s director Suzanne Nossel dug in. She told activists that while there are “legitimate concerns” about Israel’s record, she wouldn’t give back the money; and she “asserted that there is a strong reaction against the word ‘boycott.’”
In fact, in March, when the fight began, PEN’s World Voices leaders, Colm Toibin and Jakab Orsos, issued a grandiloquent statement saying PEN is against boycott as a tool.
When confronted with nuanced and complex issues, PEN and PWVF must always fall on the side of maximum protections for free expression. With that guiding principle in mind, PEN does not and cannot subscribe to cultural boycotts of any kind—which impede individual free expression—no matter the cause.
Well, not so fast. Electronic Intifada’s Charlotte Silver reports that Nossel supported a boycott of Iran in 2006:
Writing on Democracy Arsenal, a website that she founded, Nossel suggested a “sports boycott that would exclude soccer-crazed Iran from the World Cup, akin to what was done for apartheid South Africa and [Slobodan] Milosevic’s Serbia.”
And here’s another, more recent example. Last week PEN tweeted that Enrique Iglesias should boycott Azerbaijan because of all the political prisoners in its jails. At the same time a PEN official signed a letter to Enrique Iglesias urging the pop star not to play Azerbaijan because of its human rights record."