BAGHDAD — An ordinarily staid book fair in France has become the subject of international controversy because of a boycott by several Muslim nations and organizations over a decision by organizers to honor Israeli writers and history.
Iran on Saturday became the second Middle Eastern country to officially opt out of the annual Salon du Livre, the largest of the Paris book fairs. The festival draws thousands of writers and hundreds of publishers from around the world.
The five-day fair, which begins March 14, will mark the Jewish state's 60th anniversary by welcoming 39 Israeli writers to present their books. The main pavilion at the festival is to be draped in Israeli flags and posters to note that Israel is the guest of honor.
The vehemently anti-Israeli government of Tehran said it would refuse to participate in the event. "Iran was a regular participant of Paris book fair each year," Ali Alipour, Iran's deputy minister of culture and Islamic guidance, told the Islamic Republic News Agency. "But this time it has refused to take part in the event protesting at the presence of the Zionist regime."
Lebanon announced Wednesday that it would stay away from the fair, a blow for France, which considers the Francophone country part of its cultural backyard. "Lebanon will not participate this year in protest at the cultural event's organizers' decision to select Israel as guest of honor," Culture Minister Tarek Mitri said.
The 50-nation Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on Tuesday called on all Islamic states to boycott the Salon du Livre because "the crimes against humanity that Israel is perpetrating in the Palestinian territories . . . constitute, in themselves, a strong condemnation of Israel, making it unworthy of being welcomed as a guest of honor at an international book fair."
The Egyptian daily Al Ahram reported last week that representatives of 25 professional associations in Cairo had sent the French Foreign Ministry a note protesting the decision to honor Israel.
Literary and publishing groups in Tunisia and Algeria, where French is the second language, as well as in the Palestinian territories and Yemen have also announced decisions to stay away.
Festival organizers have said they decided to honor Israel on its 60th anniversary after failing to do so on its 50th anniversary, when the Jewish state first sought the recognition. Commentators have lambasted both the French for honoring Israel and Muslims for boycotting the festival.