Frankfurt: ‘We Are Sad’ at Arab Exhibitors’ Withdrawal

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The president and CEO of Frankfurter Buchmesse addresses decisions by several Arab exhibitors to withdraw from the 2023 fair.

Image: FBM, Fernando Baptista

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Juergen Boos: ‘Our Sympathy Goes Out to All’
Over the weekend ahead of Wednesday’s (October 18) opening of Frankfurter Buchmesse, many trade visitors and exhibitors who are in—or traveling to—Germany, have heard the news of several withdrawals from the 75th iteration of the trade show by prominent Arab world publishers’ associations and organizations.

This has happened amid increasing international alarm not only for Israelis but also for Palestinians who are in an imminent ground offensive’s crosshairs without basic essential needs or an escape route.

Death and injury tolls among both Palestinians and Israelis are wrenching. At this writing, diplomats are “in frantic talks to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” as Thomas Fuller is reporting at The New York Times.

In a statement provided to Publishing Perspectives today (October 16), Juergen Boos, Frankfurt’s president and CEO, says:

“We are sad to see that some exhibitors from the Arab region withdrew their participation in this year’s fair.

Juergen Boos

“To dispel false reports and misunderstandings that may have arisen in the past days: millions of innocent people in Israel and in Palestine are affected by this war, and our sympathy goes out to all of them. We truly hope that ways can be found to bring them out of this violence.

“Frankfurter Buchmesse stands for the peaceful encounter of people from all over the world. With people from more than 100 countries coming together in Frankfurt every year, the book fair has always been about humanity and its focus has always been on peaceful and democratic discourse.”

Two Dynamics

The withdrawals announced from Frankfurt’s exhibition floors include the Arab Publishers Association, the Emirates Publishers Association, Sharjah Book Authority, and PublisHer. Many Frankfurt-bound publishing professionals had looked forward to the first Frankfurt appearance of the new PublisHer stand in Hall 5.

Overall, the several withdrawal decisions announced this weekend have run along two basic situations. As the journalist Saeed Saeed at the UAE-based English-language The National wrote over the weekend, it has at times been unclear whether the withdrawals have been more closely related to a statement made last week by the book fair’s leadership, or to a decision by Litprom—a separate but related organization, despite some news outlets’ reporting that has required corrections—to postpone an award event during Frankfurt for the Palestinian-German author of Minor Detail, Adania Shibli.

Litprom has said it’s “looking for a suitable format and setting for the event at a later point.” This has generated a range of concerned responses among industry players. The organization goes on to say in a statement on its site, “The awarding of the prize”—which is for female writers from the Global South—”to Adania Shibli was never in question. Litprom firmly rejects the accusations and defamations made against the author and the novel in parts of the press as unsubstantiated.”

While Boos is president of the Litprom board, that organization and Frankfurt are not the same. And the withdrawals from the fair by some Arab world delegates don’t reference the change in plans by Litprom for Shibli’s award.

Update: We are further informed that Shabli’s publisher, New Directions, has seen continued confusion around a key point of the situation with the award. Mieke Chew at New Directions tells us that she and her colleagues have been “concerned with the misinformation that was announced by [Litprom’s] Liberaturpreis and subsequently reported in The New York Times that Adania agreed to the cancellation and the distress that has caused.” This information has been corrected and recorded in the Times, although Chew adds, “I see no similar record of the correction on the Litprom site.”

Bodour Al Qasimi: ‘Dialogue and Cultural Exchange’

In the statement released by Bodour Al Qasimi, a point also made by Mohammad Rashad of the Arab Publishers Association is emphasized. It’s a question of what Al Qasimi terms “a choice to cancel the voice of an entire demographic by fully supporting Israel, which effectively leaves no space for dialogue and cultural exchange.”

Al Qasimi, the immediate past president of the International Publishers Association (IPA) and now president of the American University of Sharjah, is the leading voice of the multifaceted Sharjah delegation, as chair of the Sharjah Book Authority and founder of both the Emirates Publishers Association and PublisHer.

PublisHer, the organization Al Qasimi opened in 2019 to bring together and advocate for women in world publishing’s professional ranks, is not, per se, an Arab organization, and its membership crosses frontiers and continents. Al Qasimi’s position as its founder, however, is prominent in the program’s development and activities.

In her statement, provided to Publishing Perspectives, Al Qasimi writes:

“Given the recent announcement by the organizers of Frankfurter Buchmesse, Sharjah Book Authority, Emirates Publishers Association and PublisHer have decided to withdraw their participation this year.

Bodour Al Qasimi

“I strongly believe in the fundamental rights of civilians worldwide to live in safety, free from the dangers of armed conflict. In times of crisis and conflict, I strongly advocate for the role of books, culture, authors, book fairs, intellectuals, and artists in promoting unity, de-escalating tensions, and making diverse voices heard. By doing so, we can improve the prospects for peace and harmony.”The creation of PublisHer was driven by our commitment to promoting diversity and inclusivity in our industry. Unfortunately, we do not feel able to participate in Frankfurt Book Fair this year as it contradicts these core values.

“Wars tend to create divisions among people, but we believe that books and culture have the power to bridge those divides. This belief is the main reason we withdrew our participation in the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. We made this decision due to the FBF’s choice to cancel the voice of an entire demographic by fully supporting Israel, which effectively leaves no space for dialogue and cultural exchange. In Sharjah, we firmly believe that book fairs should serve as platforms to foster dialogue and unite people, rather than driving them apart, especially at time of wars and conflict.

“During times of war, the destruction of schools, bookstores, and libraries is all too common, resulting in the silencing of voices and stories. As publishers, we have a responsibility to address the impact of wars on individuals and to create a safe environment that encourages dialogue, fosters understanding, and enhances the prospects of peace.”

Mohammad Rashad: ‘Deep Regret’

In his letter to Boos dated on Saturday (October 14), Mohammad Rashad, president of the Arab Publishers Association, represents the dynamic here of a perceived imbalance in reactions to the alarming situation in the Gaza Strip.

In his letter, Rashad writes:

“The Arab Publishers Association would like to express its deep regret for your biased and unjust stance toward the tragic events in the region, The Palestinian people have been living under the longest occupation in modern history, an occupation which has transformed into a system of apartheid that exerts maximum pressure and has made Gaza an open prison for more than 2.2 million people.

Mohammad Rashad

“In addition to that, more than 1,900 Palestinians are killed by the Israeli army during the last six days and more than 10 percent of them are children.

“We certainly denounce any attack on a civilian from any side, but viewing the case from a single angle and accepting this injustice that the Palestinian people have been subjected to for decades is a big mistake.

“Moreover, your statements don’t reflect at all the exceptional Arab relationships that have developed over the years between Frankfurt Bookfair administrations and Arab publishers. In light of your position, the Arab Publishers Association has decided to withdraw its participation in Frankfurt Book Fair 2023.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurt Book Fair is here, more on the Sharjah Book Authority is here, more on the Emirates Publishers Association is here, more on PublisHer is here, and more on the Arab Publishers Association is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.