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Long-time PEN official Venske: can do little in terms of press releases

Photo: Daniel Reinhardt / picture alliance / dpa

The Hamburg writer Regula Venske has asked the international president of PEN, Burhan Sönmez, to relieve her of her office as international secretary general of international PEN with immediate effect. The former president of the PEN Centre Germany cited various statements by the London Secretariat of the international authors' organisation on current events in the Middle East as the reason for her resignation.

She had neither seen nor approved PEN International's statements before publication, Venske said: "I was horrified to read the dispatch from the London Secretariat on the evening of October 10, whose lack of empathy for the Israeli victims of the Hamas massacre of October 7 deeply shocked and depressed me."

The October 10 statement said, among other things: "The escalation of violence began on October 7, when Hamas fired rockets into Israel and launched an unprecedented operation by its fighters in Israeli settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip. Israel retaliated with an overwhelming bombardment of entire residential areas and began an all-out siege of the Gaza Strip."

Betrayed by friends

Julia Fermentto-Tzaisler, founder of Israel's PEN, wrote in an op-ed for the Süddeutsche Zeitung that she felt betrayed by friends and explicitly cited PEN International's statement: "After a cursory mention of violence and an 'operation' of 'fighters,' they declare Israel the villain."

Regula Venske, who was elected International Secretary at the 2022th PEN International Congress in Uppsala in autumn 88, writes that she has come to the conclusion that she can do little in terms of press releases in PEN International's current structures. The fact that the processes for admission to PEN Israel have been delayed for a long time is also unacceptable for Venske.

The Secretary General of the PEN Centre Germany, Michael Landgraf, had already recognised during a joint panel discussion at the Frankfurt Book Fair "that there is a contrary position of the PEN Centre Germany to the officials of PEN International in the interpretation of the Middle East conflict". In response, the PEN Center Germany issued its own press release condemning Hamas' brutal attack on Israel, commemorating the victims of the war, and emphasizing efforts to establish the unifying word.

Regula Venske emphasized that she would continue to work for human rights, peace and international understanding.