The moral confusion of Ian McEwan

If we lived in a just world, where people didn’t stand idly by in the face of the continuing assault on Israel’s moral legitimacy, Author Ian McEwan would have reacted with outrage at demands by Palestinian groups that he participate in a boycott of Israel by refusing to accept the Jerusalem Prize for Literature.

In such a world, McEwan would have passionately denounced the letter to the Guardian from a group called British Writers in Support of Palestine, which urged him to decline the award which they characterized as “a cruel joke and a propaganda tool for the Israeli state” and which went on to denounce the Jerusalem Municipality as complicit in the “illegal colonisation of East Jerusalem.”

McEwan, in such a scenario, would have responded by noting that Israel, whatever its imperfections, remains a small bastion of freedom in a region plagued by despots and tyranny, and is in fact the last nation in the Middle East deserving of such opprobrium and sanctions.

In short, he would have turned the charge around and expressed to his Palestinian interlocutors how appalled he was at the mere suggestion that Israel, the nation where freedom of political and artistic expression is most arduously protected, should be isolated by the artistic community.

But, as we’re all too aware, the  moral discourse about Israel often has little or no relationship to truth or decency.

McEwan, in accepting the award, found it necessary to condemn the Jewish state and – both in his original defense of his decision to go, as well as in his acceptance speech in Jerusalem – engage in the morally and intellectually unserious equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

In his defense of his decision to accept the award he said:

“I am not a supporter of the Israeli settler movement, nor of Hamas.”

Then, in his acceptance speech in Jerusalem:

“Hamas has embraced the nihilism of the suicide bomber, of rockets fired blindly into towns, and the nihilism of the extinctionist policy towards Israel [but] its [Israeli] nihilism to make a long-term prison camp of the Gaza Strip. Nihilism has unleashed a tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories.”

I have no doubt of Ian McEwan’s literary prowess, and am sure his honor, in receiving the Jerusalem Prize for Literature, was well deserved.

However, when it comes to making sound decisions relating to the continuing assault on a progressive democracy under siege – often waged by the most reactionary movements in the world – McEwan has shown that he is a political and moral amateur.

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