NEW YORK—Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s bizarre comparison of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish to Adolf Hitler, made in the context of his worrying attempt to influence the programming of the Army Radio station, illustrates dismissiveness toward a sincere effort to explore the potential of literature to help build bridges between cultures, PEN America said in a statement today.

According to the New York Times, Lieberman “excoriated” the commander of Army Radio over a recent show about the poetry of Darwish. The radio broadcast had apparently included Darwish’s poems, which incorporate themes of shared struggle and resistance, in a series on the foundational texts of Israel. Darwish is regarded as one of the most influential Palestinian poets, and his work has been recognized by several international awards, including the Prince Claus Award underwritten with support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a statement, Lieberman compared the Palestinian cultural influential to Hitler, suggesting the program’s examination of his work was the equivalent of extolling “the literary marvels of Mein Kampf.” Darwish, venerated by Palestinians, is a controversial figure in Israel. While there have been attempts to incorporate his poetry into Israeli school curricula, critics have also cited verses that can be read to evince Palestinian unwillingness to live alongside Jews.

“Literature has the power to bridge divides, facilitate dialogue, and encourage cultural exchange,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. “Lieberman’s invocation of the Holocaust in relation to poet Mahmoud Darwish was gratuitous and inflammatory. In the search for a peaceful future, Israel must embrace rather than denigrate efforts aimed at fostering cross-cultural engagement.”

Israel’s Attorney General reportedly called Lieberman after the incident to reiterate that Lieberman does not have the authority to interfere with Army Radio’s programming. Lieberman’s attack on the station is not the first incident of government overreach regarding Army Radio, which is operated by the Israeli Defense Forces but is managed by a civilian. Earlier this year, after the Minister of Culture raised a public stir trying to intervene in the station’s programming, Lieberman launched an investigation to determine whether Army Radio should continue to operate at all.

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