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300 authors denounce stripping of Kamila Shamsie award over Israel boycott

Writers accuse German city of 'punishing' British-Pakistani author for her views
A photo of Kamila Shamsie published by Dortmund city council on the day it announced she had been awarded the Nelly Sachs Prize (www.dortmund.de)

Hundreds of internationally renowned writers have denounced a Germany city's decision to strip author Kamila Shamsie of a literary award over her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

In a letter published in the London Review of Books, the authors noted their "dismay" over Dortmund's decision to "punish" Shamsie for her political views. 

"What is the meaning of a literary award that undermines the right to advocate for human rights, the principles of freedom of conscience and expression, and the freedom to criticise? Without these, art and culture become meaningless luxuries," the letter read. 

The literature prize awarded by Dortmund biannually is named after Jewish writer Nelly Sachs to celebrate authors whose work celebrates “tolerance, respect and reconciliation”.

The city said last week that the jury had not been aware of Shamsie's support for BDS and claimed the decision to rescind her award was "clearly in contradiction to the statutory objectives of the award and the spirit of the Nelly Sachs Prize".

The authors also published Shamsie's response to the decision and criticised Dortmund for not including it in their own statement. 

Shamsie told Middle East Eye last week that she had asked the city to publish her reaction. 

One of the letter signatories, Aamer Hussein, a British-Pakistani storyteller and novelist and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, told MEE last week that he agreed with Shamsie's stance.

"She has always been a writer and public intellectual of exemplary integrity, honesty and moral courage, and I am quite frankly amazed that any prize should be withdrawn from a writer for her defence of human rights," Hussein said. 

In May, the German parliament passed a motion condemning the BDS movement as antisemitic. It accused BDS of utilising "patterns and methods" used by the Nazi movement during the Holocaust.

The BDS movement, which was founded in 2005 by Palestinian activists, responded by accusing Germany of "complicity in Israel's crimes of military occupation, ethnic cleansing, siege and apartheid".

Last week, Dortmund city council announced that the jurors were rethinking their decision following a post on the right-wing Ruhrbarone political blog about Shamsie's support for BDS.

Ruhrbarone has previously been accused by pro-BDS activists of calling for a "genocide against Palestinians" after tweeting an image in November, which called for Gaza to be transformed into an open-cast mine - a massive open pit - with the hashtag #IsraelUnderFire. The tweet was subsequently deleted.