The septuagenarian Israeli novelist and poetry translator Esther Orner would hardly seem threatening to anyone. Yet Orner, who has translated Yehuda Amichai and Aharon Shabtai into French, has become the center of a frantic dispute in France.
The University of Provence, based in Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles, has just canceled a March 2011 colloquium, “Writing Today in the Mediterranean Region: Changes and Tensions,” after a group of Egyptian and Palestinian writers, whose names have been kept confidential by the University, objected to the presence of an Israeli. In response, the colloquium organizers immediately canceled Orner’s invitation.
Orner told the French newsweekly “Le Point”: “That’s the second time I’ve been boycotted; it’s becoming routine…I might add that I am particularly shocked to see foreigners dictating to a French university what it must do.” After news of their action became public on July 12, the organizers issued a press release headlined “We Never Boycotted Israel,” claiming that the colloquium was intended to mainly focus on Arab literature, so their only choice, apart from canceling the event altogether, was to disinvite the Israeli.
Orner countered that she had not known that for France, Israel is no longer a Mediterranean country. Finally, the University of Provence’s president canceled the entire colloquium.
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