Frankfurt International Book Fair organisers are facing growing criticism after cancelling a Palestinian author's award over the Israel-Gaza war.
In a fiery speech during the opening ceremony on Tuesday, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek labelled the cancellation of the pre-arranged LiBeraturpreis award for Palestinian author Adania Shibli as “scandalous".
Shibli, who was to be honoured for the novel Minor Detail on Friday, subsequently cancelled all her speaking engagements at the book fair.
“I was shocked when I learnt that the award ceremony for Adania Shibli was postponed, a decision I consider scandalous,” Zizek said.
“Here we are approaching the paradoxes of cancel culture. All that cancel culture does is exclude those who don't fit your notion of inclusion and diversity.”
Zizek’s speech, punctuated by heckles from sections of the audience, urged for more nuanced discussions and reactions when it comes to Israel and Palestine.
"There will be no peace in the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian question," he said. "One should defend Palestinian rights and fight anti-Semitism.”
Book fair director Juergen Boos then took to the stage for an impromptu response.
"It is the freedom of the word. And we have to leave that freedom as it is, this is important to me,” said Boos, who, according to trade publication Publishing Perspectives, is also board president of LiBeraturpreis award organisers Litprom.
“I think I can speak on this community’s behalf. We condemn terror. We are humans and we think in human terms on the Palestinian and Israeli side.”
The opening ceremony is traditionally a light-hearted affair featuring speeches by dignitaries and guest authors. Tuesday's events underscore the fraught atmosphere surrounding this year’s fair.
Celebrating its 75th anniversary and normally attended by more than 150,000, including international publishers and the public, this year’s iteration has been marred by controversy since the outbreak of war on October 7.
Last Wednesday, Boos released a statement on behalf of the book fair condemning Hamas's attack in Israel and said "special events" were planned to "make Jewish and Israeli voices particularly visible" at the event.
In response, a growing number of international bodies withdrew their participation.
On Monday, Malaysia's education ministry announced it will also pull out.
“The ministry will not compromise with Israel’s violence in Palestine, which clearly violates international laws and human rights,” read the statement reported by Reuters.
“The decision [to withdraw] is in line with the government’s stand to be in solidarity and offer full support for Palestine.”
This follows a similar move by the Indonesian Publishers Association, which also declared it would not attend.
"The decision by the organiser of the Frankfurt Book Fair to only take sides and give Israel a platform has undermined the ideals of dialogue and efforts to build mutual understanding," a statement read.
“Siding with Israel while forgetting the suffering of the Palestinian people is like reading only one book to feel like you understand the whole world.
“And, expanding Israeli stages at the book fair while cancelling awards for Palestinian writers seems to reflect the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.”
The UAE's Sharjah Book Authority and the Emirates Publishers Association, in addition to Egypt’s Arab Publishers' Association, announced their withdrawal on Saturday.
The Frankfurt International Book Fair runs until Sunday.