Martin Amis ‘would’ve stood up to Hay protesters’, says Simon Schama

Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens would have stood up to the protesters trying to silence debate at literary festivals, Simon Schama has said.

The Hay Festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival have cut ties with sponsor Baillie Gifford after a campaign led by Fossil Fuel Books, which claimed that the asset manager invests in companies with links to Israel, as well as companies that contribute to the climate crisis.

Invoking his late friends, Schama told a Hay audience: “Book festivals are theatres for listening to each other. I don’t want to see festivals being trapped in some sort of purity test.

“I go back to dear friends. I’m going to the memorial service of my friend Martin Amis. Martin and Christopher Hitchens and Clive James and a lot of my friends who are not with us were absolutely committed never to have the hands of writers tied behind them.

“They were merry pugilists. They absolutely believed that you could disagree spectacularly with each other without requiring the silencing or worse of each other.

“That is the heart and soul of the Hay Festival and the other great festivals that we have in this country, and I don’t want to see them imperilled. All of you, along with me, have to stand up and fight for them.”


The writer and presenter is a professor of history and art history at Columbia University in the US, where pro-Palestinian students set up an encampment. “Jewish students are pretty damn scared,” he said. “In the weeks after Oct 7, swastikas appeared in the corridors near their dorm lodgings… It is an extraordinary and awful thing that has been going on.”

Schama said: “With the demonstrations in London, there are certain things you can’t do if you’re Jewish in England now. You can’t safely go out with a kippah, a skullcap. You certainly can’t be seen wearing a Star of David on public transport. Jewish children have been vocally and sometimes physically assaulted on their way to Jewish schools.”

He said that those who chant for an intifada during the pro-Palestinian demonstrations “may simply be cosplaying” as revolutionaries and not understand the implications of their calls. Schama said: “It is possible for everybody to feel compassion for the victims on both sides. It is possible to hold intense feelings and empathy at the same time. History is like that – it’s often very complicated and difficult to work through.”

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