Sally Rooney stands up for Palestine in face of smears

Woman in crewneck and bangs in black and white picture

Respecting boycott, award-winning author Sally Rooney won’t let Israeli company publish her work. (Chris Boland / via Flickr)

Best-selling Irish author Sally Rooney is standing with Palestinians by respecting their call to boycott Israel.

She is refusing to allow an Israeli company to buy the Hebrew translation and publication rights for her latest novel.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) hailed Rooney for joining “countless international authors in supporting the institutional cultural boycott of Israel’s complicit publishing sector.”

But pro-Israel media and lobby groups have attempted to portray her decision as a boycott of the Hebrew language – a predictable insinuation that her solidarity with Palestinians is motivated by prejudice.

Rooney explained to media why she declined the offer from Israel’s Modan Publishing House to translate her latest novel Beautiful World, Where Are You.

She said she was “very proud” that her earlier books Conversations with Friends and Normal People are available in Hebrew, but that she has “chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house” for now.

Rooney cited reports published by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch earlier this year belatedly recognizing Israel’s system of apartheid imposed on Palestinians.

These reports “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 added.

The author said she was answering the call from Palestinian civil society to impose “an economic and cultural boycott of complicit Israeli companies,” referring to BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – as an “anti-racist and nonviolent” movement.

“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,” Rooney added.

Rooney confirmed that Hebrew-language translation rights to her new novel are still available if she “can find a way to sell these rights that is compliant with the BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines.”


Pro-Israel media misconstrued her act of solidarity as a blanket prohibition on translating her work into Hebrew, rather than what it is: respect for the Palestinian call for BDS.

Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust – a British government-funded pro-Israel group that habitually makes false accusations of anti-Semitism against Palestinians and their supporters – amplified those claims as well.

The smear was also pushed by Michael Dickson, executive director of right-wing Israel lobby group StandWithUs, among others:
It is notable that the Modan Publishing House, which carries Rooney’s earlier books, boasts on its website that it publishes and markets books for Israel’s ministry of defense.

The misrepresentations of Rooney’s decision are reminiscent of distortions of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker’s decision to boycott Israeli publishers almost a decade ago.

At the time, Walker said she would wait until Israel ceased to be an apartheid state before allowing her book The Color Purple to be published by an Israeli company.

Tel Aviv daily Haaretz and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency initially charged Walker with refusing to allow her book to be translated into Hebrew – a complete distortion.

Tradition of solidarity

Rooney’s decision is part of a long-standing tradition of solidarity between Irish and Palestinian people.

“More than 1,300 artists have now signed Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of apartheid Israel,” the Palestinian group PACBI said.

Rooney is also one of hundreds of artists and cultural figures who signed “A Letter Against Apartheid” after Israel’s 11-day assault on Gaza in May, during which 260 Palestinians were killed.

In her 2018 novel Normal People, characters discuss “Palestinian liberation” and even take part in a protest against Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza in 2014.

Normal People was crowned Book of the Year at 2019’s British Book Awards.




Typical of Israeli apologists to try to distort Sally Rooney's actions into something antisemitic by pretending she opposes translation of her books into Hebrew. The zionists are as quick to lie as their right wing counterparts in the US. Kudos to Sally Rooney and kudos to the Palestinian resistance.


It's worth noting that the Zionist lobby scarcely bothers any longer to deny- and certainly won't debate- findings to the effect that Israel operates an apartheid system. In the present instance, one of their reactions has been a variant of that time-dishonored tactic, "Why only Israel?" Readers will recognize the argument: there are so many injustices in the world. Why do Palestinian rights advocates focus their energy on Israel? Answer: antisemitism.

It's as if someone charged with a string of murders stood before the judge and offered by way of defense: "There are plenty of serial killers. Yet it seems I'm the only one being arraigned in this courtroom. Why don't the police go out and arrest the others? This is blatant discrimination!"


Good analogy, Tom. Well said.


Trust that despicable, leather-tongued spouter of Herzlite dogma, Dave Rich, and his phoney charity to make a typically tendentious and idiotic comment. No, Hebrew is not a State, nor a political dogma, It's a language which had to be brought back from the dead in a pretence that it was lingua franca of the Jews. But Ms Rooney has no objection to Hebrew, what she opposes is the racism the CST supports. Two million people imprisoned in Gaza. Why? Because they are Arabs. Ms Rooney is objecting to Israel culture washing itself. She correctly refuses to allow her work to be used to drape the trappings of culture around the neck of the ugly beast that is the Israeli State. And in what way exactly would it be racist if a writer refused to have his or her work translated into, say, Russian as a protest against Putin's vile regime? The objection would not be to the Russian people but to its corrupt government. As usual, those locked into the made doctrine of Herzl must bleat "anti-semitism" in response to criticism of the politics of the Israeli State. But Rooney has millions of young followers across the globe. They don't believe for a second she is anti-semitic. And they will respect and follow her lead. Israel sports out-dated, mendacious, manipulative, careerist manipulators like Ellman while BDS has a bright, talented young woman like Rooney on its side. Who does the future belong to? Rich describes himself as an author. I suspect his readership is slightly less that Ms Rooney's. Like the rest of the throwbacks who think the Old Testament gives them the right to do what they like, Rich is pushing water uphill. BDS will go from strength to strength. Let's hope many more artists show Israel what they think of its lousy racism, violence and lying.

Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.