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Palestinian-American writer Randa Jarrar was dragged out of a PEN event.


February 2, 2024, 2:14pm

Despite mounting objections from within the American literary community (as well as public condemnation from two prominent novelists who recently cut ties with the organization), on Wednesday evening PEN America’s Los Angeles branch went ahead with its hosting of a conversation between stand-up comedian Moshe Kasher and controversial actor/outspoken ceasefire opponent and Israel supporter Mayim Bialik.

As documented in videos recorded during the event, Palestinian-American writer Randa Jarrar (A Map of HomeLove Is an Ex-Country), along with a number of other members of the group Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG), disrupted the PEN Out Loud event by using a speaker to play the names of the thirteen writers and poets killed by Israel in Gaza since October 7 and vocally questioning why PEN was “inviting a Zionist into this space.”

When Jarrar remained seated and refused to stop protesting, security dragged her chair from the event space. Over jeers from the audience, the author can be heard condemning the October 14 killing of writer and journalist Yousef Dawas by a “targeted Israeli air strike.”

 

Further information relating to the aftermath of the protest, including PEN’s response, has come to light over the last 24 hours. As reported by Erin Somers in Publishers Lunch earlier today:

Jarrar told PL on Thursday, “PEN has not made a statement or done anything to help the many writers trapped in Gaza and being imprisoned in the West Bank… Last night, members of WAWOG protested the event by playing the names of 13 writers killed by Israeli airstrikes in the last 100 days alone.”

In an open letter after the event, the organization wrote, “We demand PEN release an official statement about these deaths, many of which have been targeted assassinations. We call upon PEN to take significant and meaningful steps that will save lives. As this letter circulates, the death toll among Palestinian writers and reporters will likely grow. If PEN continues to remain silent, it will become absolutely clear to the public whose lives and voices matter to it and whose don’t.”

PEN noted that the protest was made up of six people. They released statement on Friday reading in part, “The event was disrupted by protests that included profanity directed at the speakers and PEN America Los Angeles staff. When protesters were later asked to leave, one refused. We regret that a Palestinian writer, whom we have worked with and defended over the years for their expression, had to be taken out of the event in order for it to proceed. Alongside so many, we mourn the immense loss of Palestinian lives and have paid tribute to writers and artists who have been killed. As a free speech organization, we defend and uphold the right to protest. However, as we stated in our event code of conduct on Wednesday night and address in depth in our free speech principles, protesters—while they have a right to be heard—cannot be allowed to shout down, shut down, or obstruct the speech of others.”

 

Footage of Jarrar being forcibly removed from Wednesday evening’s PEN Out Loud event has, at the time of writing, been viewed more than 100,000 times on X (formally Twitter) and Instagram.





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