Irish writer Sally Rooney said on Tuesday that she declined an Israeli publisher’s bid to translate her latest novel into Hebrew as part of a cultural boycott over the state’s treatment of Palestinians.
Rooney said she “did not feel it would be right” to accept a contract with an Israeli company “that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people”.
In a statement, the 30 year-old author of three novels said “it would be an honour” for her latest book Beautiful World, Where Are You to be translated into Hebrew.
“But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house,” she added.
The decision to block an Israeli translation has attracted criticism from some quarters.
Gitit Levy-Paz, a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), said “Rooney has chosen a path that is anathema to the artistic essence of literature”.
“The very essence of literature, its power to bring a sense of coherence and order to the world, is negated by Rooney’s choice to exclude a group of readers because of their national identity,” she wrote on Jewish news site Forward.
“Sally Rooney’s novels are available in Chinese and Russian. Doesn’t she care about the Uighurs? Or Putin-defying journalists?” asked US critic Ruth Franklin on Twitter.
“To judge Israel by a different standard than the rest of the world is antisemitism,” she added.
Citing human rights reports, Rooney said: “Israel’s system of racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law”.
She said she supports the “Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS)” movement targeting “complicit” firms and institutions “in response to the apartheid system and other grave human rights violations”.
Rooney said the BDS movement is “modelled on the economic and cultural boycott that helped to end apartheid in South Africa”.
“Of course, many states other than Israel are guilty of grievous human rights abuses,” she added.
“This was also true of South Africa during the campaign against apartheid there.” Rooney, born in the western Ireland town of Castlebar, is considered a cult author and her works depicting lovestruck youngsters regularly dominate the literary discourse.
Her two previous books, Conversations with Friends and Normal People, have both been translated into Hebrew.
Normal People was longlisted for the Booker prize in 2018 and has sold more than a million copies. It was made into an award-winning television drama.
Beautiful World, Where Are You was published in September and quickly became a bestseller in the UK and Ireland.
Originally published in Dawn, October 13th, 2021