Karim Kattan – Why I cancelled my talk at the Institut du Monde Arabe

Karim Kattan, 2 December 2021

Karim Kattan. Photo : Héli Chelli

In response to the call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), I cancelled a talk about my novel scheduled at the Institut du monde arabe on December 11.(*)

I would like to quickly clarify my reasons. PACBI’s call was made as a response to the presence of objects on loan from the Ben Zvi Institute and from the Museum of Israel at the temporary exhibition « Juifs d’Orient ».

These objects are introduced in an interview by Professor Denis Charbit of the Open University of Israel as “the first result of the Abraham Accord”.

Professor Charbit actively participated in curating the exhibition, and stressed that it could not have taken place without the help of Israeli institutions.

The Museum of Israel is a colonial institution, partially occupying and obliterating a Palestinian museum. Its very existence is built on the looting and theft of Palestinian works, lands, histories. At a moment in time when the heritage of museums is being questioned throughout the world, it is incredible that this goes unnoticed.

An exhibition on the “Jews of the East”, as diverse groups, cannot emerge from such a collection which ensnares us into congealed ethno-nationalisms and entangles us in endless contradiction. Israel appropriates the histories of the Arab and non-Arab Jewish communities that have existed (and still exist) throughout the so-called Arab world, in order to create a belligerent national myth, and to assign Israeli identities to Jews throughout the world, while destroying their heritage. Everything we stand for – fluidity, becoming, emancipation – opposes these processes and the colonial amnesia which enables them.

I would have liked to say that this is was all a missed opportunity to curate a beautiful exhibition on the Jewish communities of the Maghreb and the Mashreq. But I believe that the organizers of this exhibition accomplished what they wanted: under the guise of humanism, they forced us Palestinians and our allies into a impossible choice. This exhibition is a sinister arrangement. It delegitimises our demands by presenting them as fundamentally counter-humanist (after all, who in their right minds would want t actively protest and exhibition that presents itself as a celebration of our multimillennial heritage?), and by forcing us to agree to our own destruction.

For all these reasons, and because I believe in the possibility of other histories, other alliances, other liberties for our countries, I respond to the call to boycott the Institut du monde arabe entirely. And I would like to suggest that we look elsewhere for Jewish narratives, because they do exist beyond Israel, without Israel, in spite of Israel, and they are numerous, rich and truly humanistic.

For example: two days age, Ariella Aïsha Azoulay published a moving essay in the Boston Review that is a remarkable testimony to the plurality of Jewish communities; more so than a propaganda exhibition can ever be. I could abso mention Simone Bitton’s film Ziyara (2020), that I have not yet seen yet, and which focuses on a pilgrimage tradition shared by Jews and Muslims in Morocco.

A boycott is not an act of censorship, nor is it a tool to shrink the world. Quite the opposite: it is a strategy that creates a conversation, widens our universes, generates uncompromising spaces made by us, with us, for us, and where we can finally exist.

(*) in Paris

Source : From @Karim.Kattan’s Instagram post, which you can find here.

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