The award of the Man Booker International prize to Israeli author David Grossman for his book A Horse Walks into a Bar was covered in the Arab media, evoking various responses. Some figures called to know and appreciate Israeli literature and culture, and emphasized that an Israeli authors' winning of the prize is not a sign that Israel is imposing its views on the global cultural scene, especially since Grossman opposes the policy of the Israeli government. Another writer attacked Grossman, saying that, even though he speaks out against Israeli policy, his political views did not keep him from serving in the Israeli army and from "justifying his country's wars and its aggression against its neighbors."
The following report reviews some of these responses.
Author David Grossman and translator Jessica Cohen (image: Aljazeera.com, June 15, 2017)
Reports On The Prize In Arab Media
Most of the reports were informative. For example, the Arts and Culture section of the Al-Jazeera website reported on the day following the announcement: "On Wednesday, the Israeli author David Grossman won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, awarded to works that are translated into English... Grossman is the first Israeli author to win this prestigious literary award." The report also noted that the translator of the book, Jessica Cohen, who won the prize along with Grossman, announced that she would donate the prize money to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem.
Headline of the report on the Al-Jazeera website: "Israeli Author Wins the Man Booker International Prize" (http://www.aljazeera.net, June 15, 2017)
Headline on Liberal Elaph website: "Israeli Author David Grossman Wins Man Booker International Prize for His Book A Horse Walks into a Bar
Egyptian Former Culture Minister: "We Should Not Belittle... The Culture Or Literature Of Our Enemy. Israel Is A Democratic Country And A Leader In All Areas"
In addition to the informative reports, there was also commentary about the significance of an Israeli author winning the prize. In an article in the news section of the Egyptian daily Al-Yawm al-Sabi', Egyptian cultural figures were quoted as saying that Grossman was worthy of the prize in their opinion, and that his being chosen reflects the standing of Israeli literature in the world. At the same time they were critical of the standing of literature in the Arab world.
Former Egyptian Cultural Minister Dr. Gaber 'Asfour described Israel as an enemy, but wrote that Grossman being chosen as recipient of the prize was "a natural thing," and added: "Israel has a presence in the international [arena] and is part of the international community. Israel won a Nobel Prize [for literature] in 1966, before Najib Mahfouz won it. We must be fair [and recognize] that Israeli literature is worthy of international prizes. We should not belittle the body of thought, the culture, or the literature of our enemy. Israel is a democratic country and a leader in all areas: in reading, in scientific research and in international publications. Also, on a global scale, many more books are translated in Israel than in Arab countries. Most unfortunately, we attribute importance [only] to industry and commerce, in contrast to Israel, which attributes importance to industry and commerce [as well], but [also] grants priority to culture, literature, and scientific research."
Egyptian Literary Critic: Grossman Deserves The Prize; We Should Be More Familiar With Israeli Literature
Egyptian literary critic Dr. Hussein Hamouda referred to Grossman's political opinions, saying: "The Israeli author David Grossman deserves the prize. He is not close to the Israeli establishment. He is one of the critics of Israeli policy and calls to return the Palestinian homeland to the Palestinians. Grossman's books are based on his worldview, which is far from extreme, and therefore they elicit much criticism in Israel. Grossman's winning of the Man Booker International Prize compels us to consider the phrase 'Israeli literature.' Does it refer to literature that is written in Hebrew, or to literature that supports official Israeli policy? In any case, Grossman is far from that Israeli policy, and this may have been one of the considerations of the committee that awarded him the prize. Literature cannot impose itself [on others] as an expression of a particular policy. Therefore, Israeli literature cannot take control of the cultural reality in a given country. Literature spreads and achieves recognition first and foremost if it is humanistic literature. Grossman's books are a part of this humanistic literature. In fact, we should be more familiar with everything that is written in Israel, just as they know everything we write."
Egyptian author Salah 'Issa said in a similar vein: "The fact that the Israeli author David Grossman has won a prize is not an indication or proof of Israeli literature taking control of world culture. There are very few Israeli authors and we do not hear much about them. In many cases international prizes are granted to anonymous writers, like the African writers who live in God-forsaken places.
Lebanese Poet: Grossman's Stories Will Not Prevent The Certain Death Of His Country
Lebanese poet and journalist Nada Hatit opposed Grossman's political stands in an article of literary criticism in the culture supplement of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. She wrote that the books of Grossman and Amos Oz (a book of whose was also a candidate for the prize) are expressions of "Israel's existential and moral crisis and nothing more. They both show the same thing: that the Zionist experiment crushed people's souls and granted them an inhuman hell within which to establish a state, [a state] where the only thing that unites the residents is the constant sense of suffocation and their belief that at some point the end of this experiment will come..." According to Hatit, Grossman, "to whom some refer as 'Israel's conscience,' speaks out loudly against his country's policy of Occupation and the settlements, yet he did not refrain from serving in the Israeli army or from sending his children [to serve in it], while justifying his country's wars and its aggression against its neighbors..." In conclusion, she wrote that "all Grossman's stories did not manage to prevent the death of his son, and they certainly won't prevent the certain death of his country."