Palestine protesters disrupt Scotiabank book prize over ‘Israel weapons ties’

Palestine protesters disrupt Scotiabank book prize over ‘Israel weapons ties’

Scotiabank's Giller Prize ceremony was briefly halted amid controversy over investments

by Suswati Basu

The Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony, an event that typically celebrates outstanding Canadian literature, was disrupted by pro-Palestine protesters. The disruption occurred as Sarah Bernstein was named the winner of the prestigious literary award for her novel, “Study for Obedience.” The demonstrators accused Scotiabank of funding the genocide of the Palestinian people through its substantial $500 million stake in Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer.

Palestine protesters interrupt Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony.

Scotiabank’s alleged controversial investments

While this incident sheds light on a contentious issue, it has been brewing for some time. Earlier this year, Scotiabank came under scrutiny due to Elbit Systems’ use of its technology in the occupied West Bank. At a shareholders meeting in April, an ethical investment group presented a petition asking Scotiabank to divest from Elbit Systems. Murtaza Hussain, a reporter with The Intercept, pointed out the unusual nature of Scotiabank’s investment in Elbit Systems, given its size and stature within the banking industry.

Scotiabank’s gigantic stake in Elbit Systems, estimated to be about $500 million, dwarfs that of its two larger domestic competitors, TD Bank and Royal Bank of Canada, which hold a combined total of around $3 million in shares in the company. Adriana DiSilvestro, a research consultant focused on corporate accountability, told The Intercept on the extraordinary nature of this investment, suggesting that such a significant ownership stake would typically imply a strategic interest in the company.

Evidently, the disruption of the Giller Prize Ceremony was a stark reminder of the controversy surrounding Scotiabank’s investments and raised questions about its corporate responsibility and ethical considerations.

The literary celebration amid ethical concerns

The award show, hosted by Canadian TV icon and author Rick Mercer and attended by over 300 guests, presented Bernstein with CAD $100,000 courtesy of Scotiabank. The gala was broadcast live on CBC, CBC Radio, and streamed live on CBC Gem and, making it a prominent event in the Canadian literary calendar, especially given that this year marked the 30th anniversary of the prize.

The remaining finalists, who each received CAD $10,000, were Eleanor Catton for her novel “Birnam Wood,” Kevin Chong for his novel “The Double Life of Benson Yu,” Dionne Irving for her short story collection “The Islands: Stories,” and CS Richardson for his novel “All The Colour in the World.”

Read: Hiba Kamal Abu Nada: Palestinian poet killed in Gaza

The longlist, shortlist, and winner of the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize were selected by an esteemed five-member jury panel, which included Canadian authors Ian Williams, Sharon Bala, and Brian Thomas Isaac, as well as American author Rebecca Makkai and Indian-British writer Neel Mukherjee.

Who won the 2023 Giller prize?

Of the winning book, the jury wrote, “The modernist experiment continues to burn incandescently in Sarah Bernstein’s slim novel, ‘Study for Obedience.’ Bernstein asks the indelible question: what does a culture of subjugation, erasure, and dismissal of women produce? In this book, equal parts poisoned and sympathetic, Bernstein’s unnamed protagonist goes about exacting, in shockingly twisted ways, the price of all that the world has withheld from her. The prose refracts Javier Marias sometimes, at other times Samuel Beckett. It’s an unexpected and fanged book, and its own studied withholdings create a powerful mesmeric effect.”

Bernstein hails from Montreal, Canada, and currently resides in Scotland. Her writing has appeared in Granta, among other publications, and she previously published her first novel, “The Coming Bad Days,” in 2021. In 2023, she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.

Elana Rabinovitch, Executive Director of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, congratulated Sarah Bernstein not only on her win, but also praised her novel: “Study for Obedience is a ground-breaking, contemplative novel about victimhood and survival, a story told with unnerving precision by an author at the top of her game.”

Additionally, Laura Curtis Ferrera, Chief Marketing Officer of Scotiabank, congratulated Bernstein and highlighted the significance of the 30th anniversary of the prize: “This is an especially significant year as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Prize which continues to captivate readers in Canada and around the world with novels and short story collections that are provocative, heart-warming, challenging, and intimate in their own way.”

Following the incident, the protesters were arrested, Giller spokesperson Robyn Mogil told the Globe and Mail. Since October 7th, 1,200 Israelis and more than 11,200 Palestinians have been killed.

Corporate responsibility in the spotlight

The Scotiabank Giller Prize has been a cornerstone of Canadian literature for nearly three decades, and its influence on the literary landscape cannot be understated. However, as controversies surrounding corporate investments and ethical considerations persist, the conversation about the role of financial institutions in such matters continues to evolve. It remains to be seen how Scotiabank will address these concerns moving forward. The incident underscores the ongoing debate about the ethical responsibilities of financial institutions and their impact on global conflicts.

Hence the disruption at the Scotiabank Giller Prize Ceremony serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing debate regarding corporate responsibility and ethical investments. While celebrating literary excellence is essential, it also raises questions about the broader impact of financial institutions on global conflicts and human rights issues. The incident also underscores the need for continued dialogue and scrutiny of such investments in the corporate world.

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Molly | Transatlantic Notes November 15, 2023 - 12:40 pm

I think that there needs to be more transparency about what corporations are funding so that consumers can make a conscious decision about whether they wish to support that or not. Protests do bring attention to this and in some ways expose that money is poured into things that we may not always be aware of. Very interesting post!

Suswati Basu November 15, 2023 - 12:44 pm

I completely agree Molly, I think it’s dishonest when corporations try to sweep their relationships under the carpet, and it makes it far more suspicious.

Canadian writers urge Giller Prize Palestine protester support - How To Be Books November 21, 2023 - 9:19 pm

[…] Read: Palestine protesters disrupt Scotiabank book prize over ‘Israel weapons ties’ […]


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