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Novelist Kamila Shamsie denied German literary award over BDS support

Kamila Shamsie has been stripped of a German literary award [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 September, 2019

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Award-winning British-Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie has had a German literary prize withdrawn over her support for the pro-Palestinian boycott movement.

An acclaimed British-Pakistani author has been stripped of a German literary prize over her support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

Novelist Kamila Shamsie was awarded the Nelly Sachs Prize, named after a Jewish poet, by the Germany city of Dortmund earlier this month.

In a statement released Wednesday, the jury announced it was withdrawing its original decision to award Shamsie the cash prize of 15,000 euros.

"Despite prior research, the members of the jury were not aware that the author has been participating in the boycott measures against the Israeli government for its Palestinian policies since 2014," the statement said.

"Shamsie's political positioning to actively participate in the cultural boycott as part of the BDS (Boycott Disinvestment Sanctions) campaign against the Israeli government is clearly in contradiction to the statutory objectives of the award and the spirit of the Nelly Sachs Prize."

Reacting to the decision, Shamsie wrote: "It is a matter of great sadness to me that a jury should bow to pressure and withdraw a prize from a writer who is exercising her freedom of conscience and expression."

In her statement, the 46-year-old author drew a picture of the recent political context, citing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu election pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and the "killing of two Palestinian teenagers by Israeli forces".

"In this political context, the jury of the Nelly Sachs prize has chosen to withdraw the award from me on the basis of my support for a non-violent campaign to bring pressure on the Israeli government," she wrote.

The BDS is a campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.

Comment: Protecting Americans' right to boycott Israel is more important than ever

Launched in 2005, the boycott effort draws inspiration from the successful anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa in the early Eighties.

The movement has recently been met with increasing resistance from pro-Israel factions in the US and in Israel itself.

German lawmakers approved a resolution in May denouncing BDS as "anti-Israel" and describing its methods as anti-Semitic. It is first European parliament to do so.

Shamsie was born in Karachi, Pakistan and grew up in London. She is well known for her novel "Home Fire", which was longlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize. 

She also won the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2018.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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