20 Canadian authors have withdrawn from the Scotiabank Giller Prize.


Dan Sheehan

July 10, 2024, 2:21pm

Twenty Canadian authors have withdraw their books and labor from the Scotiabank Giller Prize until it severs its ties to companies “complicit in Israel’s ongoing occupation, displacement and murder of Palestinians.”

In a letter to the Giller foundation published earlier today, fifteen authors pulling their 2024 fiction releases from contention for the prize, and five authors who have prior relationships to it, wrote that they “cannot abide [their] work being used to provide cover for sponsors actively investing in arms funding and Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians.”

For almost nine months now, the Giller Prize—Canada’s largest and most prestigious literary award, created in 1994 by Montreal businessman Jack Rabinovitch—has been dogged by controversy for its primary sponsor’s ongoing partnership with notorious Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems.

Elbit Systems provides military drones, land equipment, munitions and border control systems for the IDF, making it one the companies most directly complicit in Israel’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. Elbit has been a primary target of the BDS movement, and of pro-Palestine demonstrations around the world, for years, resulting in a number of major financial and investment organizations (as well as national pension funds) divesting their interests in the company.

As detailed in today’s letter (published in full at the close of this piece and well worth reading in its entirety), the protesting CanLit authors are demanding that the Giller Foundation: 1.) Use its organizational leverage to pressure Scotiabank to fully divest from Elbit Systems, and 2.) “Cut ties with all funders directly invested in Israel’s occupation and genocide in Palestine.”

The authors are also urging other writers and creatives to withdraw their work and labor from the Giller Prize and Foundation until such time as their demands are met.

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Here is a timeline of events leading up to today’s publication:

On November 13, 2023, the Giller Prize ceremony in Toronto was interrupted by pro-Palestinian protestors. That disruption led to multiple arrests and criminal charges, and several Giller Prize organizers were subsequently accused of personally “[berating] police into charging the protesters.”

In the weeks following those arrests, over 2,000 signatories from the literary world spoke out as “Canlit Responds” in solidarity with those protestors.

In early 2024, several authors—including 2023 Giller Prize winner Sarah Bernstein—withdrew from their Giller Book Club events after the prize attempted to prevent authors and attendees from speaking about Palestine or their Scotiabank ties.

On March 26, the No Arms In The Arts campaign—a multi-pronged coalition of Palestinian solidarity groups across the cultural sector, including Canlit Responds—was launched to demand that Scotiabank (which also sponsors the Hot Docs Film Festival and the Toronto Biennial of Art) divest from Elbit Systems.

On May 14, it was announced that Scotiabank’s 1832 Asset Management had quietly halved its stake in Elbit Systems, dropping from 5.1 percent to 2.5 percent. Despite that, Scotiabank remains Elbit’s largest foreign shareholder, with over $250 million invested in the company.

On July 2, Elana Rabinovitch, executive director of the Giller Prize, issued a statement to the Globe and Mail saying that they are working on “a solution that will support the foundation, the prize and all authors” and asking that “people not construe our silence for endorsement of the status quo. Systems take time to dismantle.”

In the same Globe and Mail article, Ethiopian-American novelist and vice-president of PEN America Dinaw Mengestu said of the situation: “I think the damage to the reputation that is happening now is already going to be difficult to recover from, and it is growing week by week.”

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Here is the CanLit letter in full:

To the Executive Director, Board and Advisory Council of the Giller Foundation:

We, the undersigned, have made the decision to withdraw our books from consideration for the 2024 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and to refuse participation in all programming or promotions associated with the Giller Foundation.

As authors, we cannot abide our work being used to provide cover for sponsors actively investing in arms funding and Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians. We cannot abide the Giller Foundation’s attitude to Palestine solidarity since November 2023: the criminalization of protest, and the silencing and discrediting of their own authors who have stood in solidarity with community organizers and Palestinians.

As long as the Giller Foundation continues to receive funding from ANY sponsors who are directly invested in Israel’s occupation of Palestine, it will still be complicit in genocide.

Our demands to the Giller Foundation are as follows:

-Use their organizational leverage to pressure their main sponsor, Scotiabank, to fully divest from Elbit Systems

-Cut ties with all funders directly invested in Israel’s occupation and genocide in Palestine, including the Azrieli Foundation, Indigo, and Audible

 

Scotiabank

The 2023 Giller Gala was disrupted in order to spotlight Giller’s lead sponsor Scotiabank’s $500 million investment in Elbit Systems, an Israeli weapons manufacturer responsible for the Hermes drone, cluster bombs, and white phosphorus used against Palestinians. Following this disruption, a support letter signed by over 2000 authors, and months of organizing by authors, artists and cultural workers, Scotiabank has halved its stake in Elbit, representing a divestment of nearly $250 million. Despite these major organizing gains, Scotiabank continues to have millions invested in Elbit. 

The Azrieli Foundation

The Azrieli Foundation takes its name from David Azrieli, who participated in the Nakba, serving in the Seventh Brigade of the Zionist paramilitary organization Haganah. The Azrieli Group continues to conduct business on settlements in the occupied West Bank through their gas station chain Sonol—settlements deemed illegal under international law.

The Foundation itself has donated millions of dollars to organizations like Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada and United Israel Appeal of Canada—organizations whose missions to promote “immigration to Israel” expand the Zionist settler colonial project. In 2011, the Azrieli Foundation donated to far-right Zionist group Im Tirtzu, which has been characterized as “fascist” even by Israeli courts, under a stated mandate to “stop the academic boycott of Israel.”

Indigo

Indigo is controlled by Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, who fund the HESEG Foundation. HESEG provides incentives in the form of scholarships for non-Israeli citizens—also known as “lone soldiers”—to serve in the IOF to displace, terrorize and kill Palestinians. Reisman also co-founded the anti-Palestinian advocacy group Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and is a major donor to Hillel Ontario, a Zionist student organization on school campuses.

Audible

Audible is owned by Amazon, which partners with the tech company Palantir. Palantir CEO Alex Carp claims he has lost employees over his vocal and public support of Israel’s military response to Gaza—in other words, his support of genocide. Palantir has also provided information about undocumented people living in the U.S. to its Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), powering immigration raids, deportations, and police surveillance. 

 

This week, Elana Rabinovitch, executive director of the Giller Prize, issued a statement to the Globe and Mail saying that they are working on “a solution that will support the foundation, the prize and all authors.”

To be clear: we will not be content with half-measures. Our goal is to truly win an arts and culture sector free from arms funding. Arts institutions cannot launder their moral reputations with empty statements calling too late for a ceasefire, or toothless guarantees that they will support authors’ free speech and right to protest. 

We urge our peers and other authors to join us in withdrawing their work and their labour from the Giller Prize and Foundationuntil such time as all our demands are met. We remember that our cultural institutions need us more than we need them. Giller may try to censor us, to contain us, rather than listen to our demands—but our resolve and our momentum will only keep growing. We will not be ignored.

 

Catherine Hernandez, Behind You (May 2024, HarperCollins)

Colin Barrett, Wild Houses (Mar 2024, Penguin Random House)

Farzana Doctor, The Beauty of Us (Sept 2024, ECW Press)

Frankie Barnet, Mood Swings (May 2024, McClelland & Stewart)

Greg Rhyno, Who By Fire (Apr 2024, Cormorant Books)

Jacob Wren, Dry Your Tears to Perfect Your Aim (Sept 2024, Book*hug Press)

Jen Currin, Disembark (May 2024, House of Anansi Press)

Jess Taylor, Play (Apr 2024, Book*hug Press)

John Elizabeth Stintzi, Bad Houses (Sept 2024, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Julie Delporte, Portrait of a Body (Jan 2024, Drawn & Quarterly)

Kazim Ali, Indian Winter (May 2024, Coach House Books)

Lily Wang, Silver Repetition (Feb 2024, House of Anansi Press)

Nour Abi-Nakhoul, Supplication (May 2024, Penguin Random House)

Sheung-King, Batshit Seven (Feb 2024, Penguin Random House)

Sydney Hegele, Bird Suit (May 2024, Invisible Publishing)

Aimee Wall, 2021 Giller longlist (We, Jane)

André Forget, 2022 Giller longlist (In the City of Pigs)

David Bergen, 2023 Giller longlist (Away from the Dead), 2020 Giller shortlist (We the Dark), 2010 Giller shortlist (The Matter with Morris), 2008 Giller longlist (The Retreat), 2005 Giller winner (The Time in Between)

Noor Naga, 2022 Giller shortlist (If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English)

Shani Mootoo, 2020 Giller shortlist (Polar Vortex), 2014 Giller shortlist (Moving Forward Sideways like a Crab), 2009 Giller longlist (Valmiki’s Daughter), 1997 Giller shortlist (Cereus Blooms at Night)



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