Sally Rooney Defies "Israel" with Her New Book

Her decision not to publish her book in "Israel" has received backlash and had many question whether or not she's "antisemitic".

  • Irish writing prodigy Sally Rooney.
    Irish writing prodigy Sally Rooney

Let’s cut to the chase: Criticism against “Israel” is not antisemitic. Defending the rights of millions of Palestinians living under siege is not antisemitic. Requesting a dignified life for the oppressed people of Gaza is not antisemitic.

And in that same vein, Sally Rooney’s decision is unrelated to antisemitism. But portraying it as such most certainly is. It deprives holocaust survivors, victims, and their descendants of the right to defend those who are being treated in the same spiteful and inhumane fashion to which they were subjected during the Second World War.

Sally Rooney, if anything, should be lauded for her courageous, ethical, principled, and purely moralistic stance.

What Sally Rooney did

Lest you have not picked up a book in the past 4 years, you have certainly heard of Sally Rooney, the Irish literary genius behind such masterpieces as Conversations with Friends (2017) and Normal People (2018).

Her books have been critically acclaimed worldwide, translated into several languages, and nominated for highly prestigious awards such as the Booker Prize. Not only that but Normal People has also been adapted into an Emmy-nominated series by the BBC and Hulu.

Most fascinatingly, she is only 30.

So what is it that prompted a sudden backlash against this talented writer?

Well, it so happens that Rooney made the conscientious choice of disallowing her latest book, Beautiful World, Where Are You (2021), to be widely circulated in “Israel”, by simply refusing that Modan, an Israeli publishing house, translate her novel into Hebrew.

This decision was not some tabloid-circulated rumor, but came directly from her agent, Tracy Bohan of the Wylie Agency, who revealed what many have known all along: That Rooney supports a cultural boycott of “Israel”.

Rooney has long been vocal about her support for the Palestinian cause, having signed a letter in July  - following the Israeli war on Gaza in May of this year - requesting the end of support “provided by global powers to Israel and its military; especially the US,” and for governments to “cut trade, economic, and cultural relations” with the colonial regime.

The young writer has previously mentioned the Palestinian cause within her books by criticizing the banality of general western discourse towards it.

Yet Sally Rooney is not alone, as her decision has honorable precedents.

Previous boycotts

The BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) has grown in momentum in the last years, with many renowned writers refusing to have their books published in Hebrew as to obfuscate their circulation in “Israel”.

Alice Walker, the highly-acclaimed writer of the international bestseller The Color Purple, has formerly rebuffed Israeli attempts at securing renewed translation rights for her book since she respects the current “boycotting of Israel the same way she respected the boycott in South Africa.”

Another high-profile writer is Patricia Highsmith, famed for writing the Tom Ripley psychological thriller series of novels, who prohibited her books from ever being published in “Israel”. Despite many accusing her pro-Palestinian stance of being antisemitic, she went ahead and dedicated her 1983 novel People Who Knock on the Door to the Palestinian people by writing:

"To the courage of the Palestinian people and their leaders in the struggle to regain a part of their homeland."

Recently, Pakistani-British author Kamila Shamsie has also refused to have her work translated into Hebrew and distributed by Israeli publishers. She rebuffed claims of antisemitism, clarifying her stance by saying,

"I do not want to cross the picket line formed by Palestinian civil society, which has asked everyone who wants to change the situation to not cooperate with organizations that are in any way complicit with the Israeli state."

Is BDS itself antisemitic then?

To answer this question, one must first reciprocate with another: Was the boycott campaign against apartheid-era South Africa a black supremacy movement?

Certainly not. In fact, it was one of the most quintessential tools to push for the end of apartheid practices by the white rulers of South Africa. It did not aim to eradicate all white people on this Earth, but simply discard the colonial mindset governing the establishment and give back the stolen lands to their natives. 

The BDS Movement adopts the same approach: Alongside the social and military struggle the Palestinians are leading, a cultural struggle is at the forefront of this battle. By boycotting the "cultural" and "academic" scenery in "Israel", which are infamously used for crimes-whitewashing purposes by the occupation, international figures could point out the illegitimate and inhumane practices adopted by the Israeli government.

The BDS Movement prides itself in being a “movement that works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure it to comply with international law.”

  • The international BDS movement is a fight against apartheid and colonial practices, not Judaism.
    The international BDS Movement is a fight against apartheid and colonial practices, not Judaism (BDS protest in France)

The more the crimes of the occupation expand, the louder the voice of BDS supporters become: As Israeli tentacles encroach into the political decision-making in certain countries, many nations have taken steps to counter the occupation’s transgressions.

For example, when the Labour Party leadership expelled a large number of its core principled members for voicing their support for Palestine, members retorted recently by voting on a resolution to adopt the term "apartheid" to describe Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and called for the recognition of a Palestinian state.

Additionally, Dublin, passed a resolution in 2018 endorsing a boycott of “Israel” and calling for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Rooney’s home country. Furthermore, the Gaelic country passed a motion denouncing the "de facto annexation" of Palestinian land by Israeli authorities.

Boycotting is not an act directed at the Jewish populace, which itself is filled with anti-Zionists, but an act of resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Arts and literature are ethereal tools allowing us to widen the scope of our understanding and create a transnational communal feeling. They are a beautiful rendition of the soul’s most exquisite sentiments and truths. 

Thus, they certainly are not whitewashing tools for colonial criminals, who claim victimhood due to a writer’s refusal to publish and distribute in their so-called “state” whilst they kidnap and separate parents from their tearful cancer-stricken children.

This type of brutal trampling on the dignity of a population is what prompts us to wonder, as Rooney already did: Beautiful World, Where are you?