Winner of Man Booker Prize donates money to organization critical of Israel


(JTA) — The translator of David Grossman’s 2017 Man Booker International Prize-winning novel, “A Horse Walks into a Bar,” donated half her winnings to a human rights watchdog group.

Jessica Cohen, who split the prize of $50,000 British pounds (approximately $64,000) with the celebrated Israeli novelist, gave half of her portion to B’Tselem, a Jerusalem-based organization that “endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories,” according to its website.

Cohen, who has also translated the works of Etgar Keret, among other Israeli writers, made the announcement Wednesday during her acceptance speech at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

“I’m not going to waste my breath hoping for change to come from the current Israeli administration, but I do hope that Israeli and Palestinian people can rekindle whatever shred of humanism and empathy they still have,” said Cohen, a Denver resident who was born in England and raised in Israel.

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“It’s not easy to tell unflattering and uncomfortable truths, and it’s certainly not easy to hear them, but it is essential, not only in literature but in life, and I hope that organizations like B’Tselem can continue to do so.”

“A Horse Walks Into a Bar,” which was published in Israel in 2014 and released in English this year, is about the life of a failing Israeli standup comedian and his memories of past loves, Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood and his Holocaust survivor parents. It is the first Israeli work to win the prestigious prize.

The Man Booker International Prize for fiction has been awarded every two years or so since 2004. Grossman is the first Israeli to win the award. Others shortlisted for the prize this year were Grossman’s fellow Israeli Amos Oz, for “Judas,” and the Argentine Jewish writer Samanta Schweblin for “Fever Dream.”

“Translation is more than just a job: it is part of how I live my life, ” Cohen wrote on her website‘s About section. “My identity is composed of multiple cultures in two languages. On any given day, I read newspapers and listen to music from Israel, England and the U.S. I speak both English and Hebrew regularly, and read books written in (or translated into) both languages. … Translation is a way to reconcile these parts of my identity and promote effective communication.”

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