WASHINGTON – Acclaimed Irish author Sally Rooney has chosen not to sell the translation rights for her latest novel to an Israeli-based publisher, explaining in a statement on Tuesday that she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
"I understand that not everyone will agree with my decision, but I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people," Rooney said.
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Rooney noted that her two previous novels, "Conversations with Friends" and "Normal People," were both translated into Hebrew, and said she would be honored to have her new novel, "Beautiful World, Where Are You," translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers.
However, she cited recent reports by Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem that "confirmed what Palestinian human rights groups have long been saying: Israel's system of racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law."
Rooney described the BDS movement as "a Palestinian-led, anti-racist and nonviolent grassroots campaign calling for an economic and cultural boycott of complicit Israeli companies and institutions in response to the apartheid system and other grave human rights violations. It is modeled 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 stated. "This was also true of South Africa during the campaign against apartheid there. In this particular case, I am responding to the call from Palestinian civil society, including all major Palestinian trade unions and writers’ unions."
The acclaimed author said that the Hebrew-language translation rights to her new novel are still available, and "if I can find a way to sell these rights that is compliant with the BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very pleased and proud to do so. In the meantime I would like to express once again my solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality."
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Rooney, 30, has been open about her opposition to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. In July, soon after the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Rooney was one of thousands of artists to sign a letter accusing Israel of apartheid and calling for its international isolation. The letter called for “an end to the support provided by global powers to Israel and its military; especially the United States,” and for governments to “cut trade, economic and cultural relations.”
Rooney’s characters generally have leftist politics, and her books invoke Israel in that context. In “Normal People,” the main characters attend a protest against Israel during the 2014 Gaza War. And in Rooney’s debut novel, “Conversations with Friends,” a character named Bobbi talks about how relationships are about power, but people instead focus on “niceness.” She then says, “I mean this is an issue in public discourse. We end up asking like, is Israel ‘nicer’ than Palestine.”
Ireland has a history of pro-Palestinian sentiment, owing to what many Irish citizens see as a cultural link to their struggles against the British. This summer, the country passed a motion condemning “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land. In 2018, Dublin’s city council passed resolutions endorsing a boycott of Israel and calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland.
JTA contributed to this report.