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Eggers Continues Grass-Related Boycott-a-Thon

Novelist won’t fly to Germany to accept prize after controversial Iran poem

Marc Tracy
April 16, 2012
Dave Eggers.(kittell/Flickr)
Dave Eggers.(kittell/Flickr)

Over the weekend, the American novelist and McSweeney’s impresario Dave Eggers announced he would decline to travel to Germany to receive something called the Albatross award, because it is given by the Günter Grass Foundation. While Eggers cited the recent controversy over the German novelist’s poem about the Middle East, which casts Israel as the rogue state and Iran as the victim, Eggers apparently acted not out of protest, but timidity: “in light of the recent debate,” said his agent, “he would be forced into commenting, endlessly and needlessly, on Grass and Israel and Iran, when the purpose of his visit was supposed to be about discussing his book Zeitoun, and the plight of Americans during and after Hurricane Katrina.” Seems the award isn’t the only albatross at the Günter Grass Foundation.

Eggers’ refusal was reminiscent of the Israeli government’s decision last week to prohibit Grass from entering the country. (CAMERA’s blogger reprimanded Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz for implying the ban was politically motivated. It’s true that Grass was barred under a law that addresses potential visitors with Nazi pasts. But Grass revealed his Nazi past in 2006 and was only declared persona non grata last week. You do the math.) Both acts were stupid for, among others, the same reason: because intellectual boycotts are bad.

Eggers should accept his award and, as public intellectuals are obliged, speak his mind on the recent contretemps. Israel should allow Grass to visit if he wants to, because free societies are the best laboratories for ideas and policies; and besides, nothing would provoke a widespread but reasoned condemnation of Grass more than a visit to Israel, while on the other hand nothing will so abet the trend of opposition to Israel in Germany (a trend that has festered in part because so many have censored themselves, enacting their own boycotts of their own beliefs) as this silly tantrum. Finally, and contra BDS activists, other countries should invite Israeli academics and artists (perhaps even ones from the settlements!) to their countries, and when they get there, tell them how they feel. Have it out, and let the best side win.

“OK to dislike, even be disgusted by #GünterGrass poem, but to ban him is infantile pique,” tweeted Salman Rushdie, on whose head the Iranian regime once placed a bounty because of a novel he wrote. “The answer to words must always be other words.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.