Authors pull books from Giller Prize to protest Scotiabank’s investment in Israeli defence contractor

A prestigious Canadian literary prize will maintain its partnership with Scotiabank after nearly 20 authors pulled their books from consideration to protest the bank’s investment in an Israeli defence contractor. 

More than two dozen authors have signed a letter posted Wednesday by Canlit Responds, a group that initially formed to protest charges laid against several of the demonstrators who disrupted the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony. The demonstrators were drawing attention to Scotiabank’s investment in Elbit Systems, which produces a range of military technology and equipment.

“As authors, we cannot abide our work being used to provide cover for sponsors actively investing in arms funding and Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians,” the letter states. 

“We cannot abide the Giller Foundation’s attitude to Palestine solidarity since November 2023: the criminalization of protest, and the silencing and discrediting of their own authors who have stood in solidarity with community organizers and Palestinians.”

Protesters are escorted out of the Four Seasons Hotel by the Police after interrupting the Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony in Toronto, on Monday, November 13, 2023.
Protesters are escorted out of the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto by police after interrupting the Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony in November 2023. Three of them were later charged in connection with the disruption, CP24 reported. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

More than 2,100 authors signed a previous Canlit Responds letter in November 2023 that expressed support for the demonstrators who disrupted the awards ceremony and asked the Giller Prize to advocate for the dropping of charges against them. 

Scotiabank nearly halved its stake in Elbit in May after facing heavy criticism but still had a $237.6-million US stake in the company at the end of March, according to reporting by Reuters. 

The authors say they are refusing participation in all programming or promotions associated with the Giller Foundation and its $100,000 prize.

Call for divestment from Elbit Systems

The letter demands the Giller Foundation pressure Scotiabank to fully divest from Elbit Systems and also that the foundation cut ties with all funders “directly invested in Israel’s occupation and genocide in Palestine.”

The other funders named include the Azrieli Foundation, Canada’s largest bookseller Indigo and audiobook service Audible.

“To be clear: we will not be content with half-measures,” the letter states. “Our goal is to truly win an arts and culture sector free from arms funding. Arts institutions cannot launder their moral reputations with empty statements calling too late for a ceasefire or toothless guarantees that they will support authors’ free speech and right to protest.”

Israel has firmly and repeatedly denied that its military actions in Gaza constitute genocide against the Palestinian people and insisted its sole intent is to wipe out Hamas, which launched a series of attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage. Israel’s retaliatory military action has claimed more than 38,000 lives, according to health officials in Gaza.

In January, the International Court of Justice, when ruling on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, concluded that some of the actions alleged to have been committed by Israel in Gaza “appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the (Genocide) Convention.”

Giller board ‘confident in the integrity of Scotiabank’

Giller Prize executive director Elana Rabinovitch said in an emailed statement to CBC that her organization will not cut ties with Scotiabank. 

“Following a thorough review and deep consultation with members of the literary community, the Giller Foundation board has agreed that our partnership with Scotiabank will continue,” she wrote, saying the partnership has enabled the prize to elevate Canadian authors and their works.

“While we respect all viewpoints that have been shared, we are confident in the integrity of Scotiabank and in our partnership. And while we appreciate the range of views that have been shared, the foundation is not a political tool.”.

Nineteen authors have pulled their works from contention for this year’s prize while eight others who have previous involvement with the prize have also signed the Canlit Responds letter, including 2021 Giller winner Omar El Akkad and past nominees David Bergen and Shani Mootoo. 

CBC has reached out to Scotiabank for comment.