To lie well you have to have a memory or have a weak leg and the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair seems to lack both. But Jürgen Boos is still there, immovable since 2005, accumulating criticism and requests for his resignation. Last year they asked for his head from the city council because he had given too much space to far-right editorials. He appealed to freedom of publication and expression and made it to the 2023 edition in full. This year, the exhibition started days after the Hamas attack on Israel and Boos, sensing what could come his way, scrapped award ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli for his first novel translated into German, A minor matter (A minor issue). In June, the publishing house Litprom announced that Shibli would receive in Frankfurt the Literature Prize with which the Hessian Ministry of Science and Art and the Frankfurt RheinMain Cultural Fund have recognized the work of writers from the so-called “Global South” since 1988.
It is not known if Boos had read the book and believed it was anti-Semitic or acted out of attachment to the position, which is political candy. He first explained Shibli’s exclusion because the Fair was fully supportive of Israel and Jewish and Israeli voices needed to be particularly visible. It was then said that the decision was “to protect the writer from incendiary mass hatred”, who were never seen, “that there was little desire for celebrations” and that the cancellation was agreed with the author and her publisher. Shibli has not made any statements, but her publisher has come to say that this is a lie.
The freedom of expression and publication that Boos claimed to justify the enormous presence of publishers of dubious reputation has not served this purpose and the writers, not one, not two, not three, but 600, have reminded him of this, including three Nobel Prize winners. Boos ignored the manifesto signed by the intellectuals and also listened as if it were nothing to him the opening speech of the exhibition given by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, because Slovenia was the invited country. Zizek described the decision to prohibit the awarding of the award to Shibli as “scandalous” and, although he said he was proud to be there, he confessed to feeling equally “ashamed.” He was not the only one, because just by referring to the suffering of the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip after first recognizing Israel’s “right to self-defense”, the politicians present at the event and among them the anti-Semitism commissioner of the Government of the State of Hesse, Uwe Becker, left the room while he still had the floor.
For Eva Menasse, spokesperson for the association of authors who write in German or live in German-speaking countries, translators and editors, the insult to Shibli is intellectually very questionable. Hamas and the Palestinian people are lumped together, Palestinians are placed in collective custody, suggesting that Shibli is linked to Hamas and, above all, the wrong message is sent to society. “Since the Hamas murders, many say that the condemnation of Palestinian and Arab voices is missing. Maybe it’s because we don’t let them,” says Menasse. Shibli, who lives between Berlin and Ramallah, published A minor issue in 2017. The novel, written in Arabic, has already been translated into Spanish, English, French and German. In the United States and the United Kingdom it was nominated for the National Book Award and the International Booker Prize.