Rarely off the front pages, Israel and the perennial conflict in the Middle East are currently even more in the news with the demise of the rais—Yasser Arafat—and the election of a new Palestinian leadership.
It is against this background that the 22nd Jerusalem International Book Fair will take place, February 13—18, 2005. The biannual fair (the first was held in 1963) will convene as usual in Jerusalem's International Congress and Convention Center. This year's date is earlier than in previous years, partly to avoid scheduling conflicts with publishers' sales conferences but also to avoid clashing with Hebrew Book Week. The latter is a major annual event in Israel's local bookselling and publishing world, when all the major cities in the country host a traditional open-air book festival attended by a wide and enthusiastic audience. In 2003, Hebrew Book Week took place almost immediately before the International Fair, and the public, presumably already sated with books, stayed at home.
Securing the Fair
Security concerns are, of course, a legitimate issue in the mind of any publisher planning on going to the fair, perhaps especially in these volatile months following the death of Arafat. As we write, Palestinians are going to the polls to elect a new president and there is a feeling of optimism that with a new regime, Israel and the Palestinians will be able to resume peace negotiations. Jerusalem, no less than the whole of Israel, is a bustling, thriving city, pulsing with life, and a city to which the tourists—the city's life blood—are starting to return (see sidebar below).
Zev Birger, the indefatigable life and soul of the fair who has been its chairman since 1983, says that if there is indeed the hoped-for political breakthrough with the change of Palestinian leadership, this will certainly have a favorable impact on the fair and might even bring nearer the dream that the fair will become the obvious meeting place for publishers from all the neighboring Middle East countries.
Meanwhile, Birger and deputy director Yoel Makov point out that the fair this time will place a major emphasis on literary and cultural events and a rich program of activities is planned; some of these are detailed below.
20 Years of Fellowship
Perhaps the most noteworthy part of the Jerusalem Fair and its major contribution to the world of publishing at large is the prestigious and widely recognized Editorial Fellows Program. This program grew out of an idea generated by Esther Margolis of Newmarket Press in 1983, aided and abetted by a group of publishers who attended the fair that year, and who determined that the up-and-coming generation of editors needed a forum of their own. This year, 35 editors from 13 countries have been accepted as Editorial Fellows. In 2001, a parallel program was added for young literary agents, and this year some 15 agents will also be Fellows. This year's fair marks the 20th anniversary of the program and a large number of alumni are expected to attend.
One of the special events for alumni and current fellows will be an international "Buzz Forum," at which some of the editors will present the books they are currently working on. The forum is based on similar panels at Book Expo America, but this will be the first international one.
A "Literary Café" will be a daily event at the fair, where writers, both Israelis and from overseas, will talk about their books, answer questions and enter into a dialogue with the audience. Among authors who have already agreed to speak are Erri de Luca from Italy; Irshad Manji from Canada; Emile Brami and Barbara Victor from France; Konstanty Gebert from Poland; Magdi Allam from Italy; Nils Hansen and Martin Duerry from Germany; and Aaron Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman from Israel.
The U.S. government's Fulbright Program, administered in Israel by the United States—Israel Educational Foundation, is marking a half-century of cooperation with a special symposium called "Writing Across Cultures." The featured panelists are Gish Jen, a Chinese-American writer; Ilana Stavans, Mexico; Khaled Fouad Allam, Algeria/Italy; and, from Columbia University, David Damrosch, author of What Is World Literature? (Princeton Univ.). The Israeli panelists are the writers Dorit Rabinyan, Sayed Kashua and Elana Gomel.
A special event will be held featuring six international journalists who have written or who are writing books concerning the Middle East and the Arab-Israel conflict; Harold Evans will moderate.
Visitors to Israel for the first time may be surprised by the number of bookshops, often two or three in close proximity to one another. The dominant chain is still the huge Steimatzky empire, with 160 shops throughout the country. While Steimatzky is still the major source of imported books and magazines, the two university-based groups Academon (Jerusalem) and Dyonon (Tel Aviv) are also strong outlets for imported academic and scientific books.
In the field of Hebrew books, a new player on the scene challenging Steimatzky's hegemony is Tzomet Sfarim (literally "Book Junction"), owned by the Kinneret/ Zmora Bitan/Dvir publishing conglomerate. Starting in 1996 in two shopping power centers, and, after acquiring another chain, Yerid Hasfarim ("Books Fair") Tzomet now has 35 large shops concentrated in the country's malls, and plans to open another 14 in 2005. It is steadily increasing its sales of English-language books and recently opened a department for imported books.
Israel's book world is currently agog over reports that negotiations are underway for the purchase of the Steimatzky empire by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper conglomerate. Yediot is not only Israel's largest circulation newspaper, but is also one of the country's largest and most successful publishers. The deal must still pass the scrutiny of the antitrust commissioner, which is by no means certain: several publishers have expressed concern that if Steimatzky were to belong to Yediot as Tzomet belongs to Kinneret, other publishers might find it impossible to compete for vital shelf and display space. Although Eri Steimatzky has issued denials, Yediot has refused to comment, so rumor is rife and the book industry is engaged in furious speculation over the implications of any eventual deal.
A third chain is Tamir, with seven elegant shops in the Jerusalem area. Small privately owned stores throughout the country continue to hold on by the skin of their teeth despite the competition from the chains, while an increasing number of secondhand bookstores have a loyal clientele of their own.
The Kinneret/Zmora Bitan/Dvir publishing group (and the owners of Tzomet Sefarim), is now Israel's largest publisher, with an annual output of some 250 titles. The group publishes in virtually every field and is a major buyer of Hebrew publishing rights. British-born Ziv Lewis, director of foreign rights, is well known to many overseas publishers from his long stint at the Pikarsky Literary Agency. This year, Lewis and Kinneret publisher Yoram Ros are proud to be selling world rights for the first time. The book in question is The Masters of the Land: the Settlers and the State of Israel 1967—2004 by historian Idit Zertal and journalist Akiva Eldar. The issue of the Jewish settlements on the west bank of the Jordan River set up since the Six-Day War of 1967 is, perhaps, the most complex and thorny problem at the root of the Arab-Israel conflict.
The Jerusalem Publishing House is known for its reference books and encyclopedias. Publisher Shlomo (Yosh) Gafni will be showing his latest offering, The Encyclopedia of Kabbalah. The editor is Moshe Idel, professor of Jewish Thought and Kabbalah at Hebrew University and a recipient of the 1999 Israel Prize. The Encyclopedia is designed to meet the growing public interest worldwide in Kabbalah.
High-profile literary agent Deborah Harris will be promoting books due out in 2005 by some of Israel's most prestigious writers, including David Grossman, Meir Shalev, Sami Michael, Dorit Rabinyan, Amir Gutfreund and Batya Gur. She is particularly enthusiastic about new writers in her stable, including Alon Hilu, an intellectual property lawyer whose first book, Death of a Monk, is a fictionalized account of the infamous Damascus Blood Libel of 1840. Sayed Kashua, an Israeli Arab, has written a moving and courageous fictionalized account of the post-intifada reality in Israel. Yoram Yovell is a Columbia-trained psychoanalyst whose book Mindset was on the Israeli bestseller list for 120 weeks. His collection of true stories gives a view of patients undergoing psychotherapy. White Ribbon on Red Ridinghood by Limor Nahmias, a bestselling mystery novelist, is a blackly humorous novel about a failed shiatsu teacher. Pnina Kass, an American writer living in Israel, has written a story for young adults about a bus explosion in Jerusalem and the lives of those touched by the event. Matt Rees, Time magazine's bureau chief in Jerusalem, has written Cain's Field: Battles Between Brothers in the Middle East. Rather than concentrating on the eternal conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Rees focuses on the internal rifts and often self-defeating strategies on both sides.
The good news from Nilli Cohen, director of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, is that the publication Modern Hebrew Literature has reappeared after several years of suspension for lack of funds. In a new and attractive format, it samples the best of contemporary Hebrew literature. The first issue is devoted to autobiographical fiction and includes stories, excerpts of new books and poetry by Ori Bernstein, Yoram Kaniuk, Haim Be'er and Dahlia Ravikovitch, among others.
Cohen will be promoting a long list of the Institute's authors at the Jerusalem Fair. New writers to talk to her about include Eshkol Nevo, Israel Segal, Dudi Busi, Yehoshua Sobol and Ori Bernstein. Established names on the Institute's list with new books on offer include Yoram Kaniuk, the late Uri Adelman, Yehudit Katzir, Etgar Keret, Alona Kimche, Zruriya Shalev, Shifra Horn and Orly Castel-Blum. Details of all these books and more can be found on the Institute's Web site, www.ithl.org.il.
With regard to selling Hebrew rights to Israeli publishers, the two leading agents in the field are Ilana Pikarski of the eponymous literary agency and Efrat Lev of the Harris/Elon Agency. Both have extensive lists of sole representations, and also act as regional subagents for some of the world's leading literary agencies.
Whether your interest is selling or acquiring rights, seeking out new authors or projects, marketing your list to the Israeli book trade or exchanging ideas with some of the leading young editors in the world, you will find that the bustling Jerusalem Fair—now firmly in its fifth decade—is, in the words of this magazine's reporter following the 2003 fair: "the place to be."