Foreign Authors Shun Hebrew Translations


British author Kamila Shamsie, whose early works had been translated into Hebrew, refuses to publish her new books in Israel. She’s not the only one.

Last week one Israeli publisher had an unusual experience. It started off perfectly ordinarily: The publisher wanted to acquire the rights to publish the last two books by British author Kamila Shamsie, a prize-winning and highly praised British author of Pakistani descent. Her early books were published in Israel – the last of them was “Burnt Shadows,” which was published in Hebrew in 2010 by Keter. But since then she has published another two books, and the same publisher wanted to acquire them.

The reply to the feelers arrived quickly: “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to share the author’s work with Hebrew readers at this time. It’s not personal,” wrote her agent. “I know that it was a difficult decision for Kamila, and the last thing she wants is to personally offend any Israeli editors.”

To really understand Israel and the Palestinians – subscribe to Haaretz

When the publisher asked for clarifications, the following reply came from Shamsie: “I would be very happy to be published in Hebrew, but I don’t know of any (fiction) publisher of Hebrew who is not Israeli, and I understand that there is no Israeli publisher who is completely unentangled from the state. I do not want to cross the picket line formed by Palestinian civil society, which has asked everyone who wants to change the situation to not cooperate with organizations that are in any way complicit with the Israeli state.”

It’s hard to say that this is a common reply. With all due respect to the BDS organizations, most writers are enthusiastic about being translated into foreign languages. A writer writes to be read, and literature can penetrate hearts, even those located thousands of kilometers from the place where it was written.