This article was originally published in the New Arab on February 2, 2024. An edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content partnership agreement.
Despite its focus on defending at-risk writers and journalists, PEN America, as part of the PEN International network spanning 100+ countries, has failed to acknowledge the killing of over 130 wordsmiths in Gaza since October 7.
Most recently, the organization invited self proclaimed Zionist and ceasefire opponent, Mayiam Bailik, to host a conversation with comedian Moshe Kasher about his new memoir at the PEN Out Loud event in Los Angeles. Bailik has faced “intense” criticism for her social media post trivializing the war in Gaza, which has resulted in the killing of more than 27,840 Palestinians, with 70 percent being women and children, in addition to 1,139 Israelis. Bailik’s post prompted journalist David Ehrlich to comment: “Truly some of the most demented s*** I’ve ever seen on this or any website.”
Pen America's decision sparked anger in the literary community and led to two prominent writers severing ties with the organization ahead of the event. National Book Award finalist Angela Flournoy, and O. Henry Prize winner Kathleen Alcott, both withdrew their support in response to Bailik's involvement.
The organization proceeded with the event despite the controversy.
Six writers associated with Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG), including Author Randa Jarrar, attended the PEN Out Loud event. They disrupted the event by playing the names of the 13 writers and poets killed by Israel in Gaza since October 7 using a loudspeaker, while also objecting to Bailik being given a platform.
The protesters were asked to leave, and, when Jarrar refused, she was dragged out of the event. The incident was captured in video footage that went viral on social media. In the video, Jarrar can be seen being dragged out of the event by force, as she remained seated on her chair.
Following the event, PEN America issued a statement expressing their “regret” for having to remove the protestors for the event to proceed. However, the organization has yet to make a public statement about those 13 writers, as well as the 122 journalists and 100 academics that have also been killed by Israeli forces since October.