On Sally Rooney, Susan Sarandon, and the Dubai Expo

Haidar Eid

Mondoweiss  /  October 27, 2021

As reactionary Arab regimes normalize with apartheid Israel, more intellectuals and artists honor the Palestinian call for BDS.

The decision by Irish novelist Sally Rooney to boycott an Israeli publishing company and not allow it to translate her novels is a major blow to the normalizers, especially the Arabs. It is also a slap in the face of those who mocked the boycott call launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005, and an embarrassment to the campaigns attacking BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement).

These campaigns have said that BDS has not been a success and has not resulted in real achievements, no matter how visible these achievements have been. For example, Rooney made it absolutely clear that her decision to boycott Israeli publishers was a response to the call for BDS made by Palestinian civil society. Some opponents of BDS are very selective in what they choose to hear and understand.

Rooney’s decision came at the same time that American actress and Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon chose Indigenous Peoples’ Day to tweet an infographic showing Israel’s confiscation of the land of the indigenous people of Palestine from the 20th century onwards. The infographic compared the theft of Palestinian land to the confiscation of Native American land by European colonists.

Apartheid Israel (and its supporters) expressed its anger predictably in both cases, alleging that Sarandon and Rooney were ‘antisemitic’ and not supportive of ‘peace’ the kind of peace favored by the rogue state, which involves the military occupation of Palestine. 

The Arab states which have normalized relations with Israel, especially those in the Gulf region, have welcomed the apartheid state’s technology and military industries at Dubai Expo in the UAE, with no concern that the products of these industries have been tried and tested on Palestinian children, women and men by the Israeli Occupation Forces. The Palestinian BDS movement has issued a statement calling for a boycott of the Expo on these grounds. The Israeli ministry of Foreign Affairs, which supervises the Israeli pavilion at the Expo, said, “to us the added value is in the Arab and Muslim visitor [to the Expo].” This statement is possibly the clearest expression of what Israel expects to gain from its presence at the event – which is that it will be able to sell its weaponry to Arab countries. To add insult to injury, the Emirati organizers are promoting Israeli participation as a “glimmer of hope” for the region!

The presence of apartheid Israel at the Dubai Expo goes beyond the marketing of deadly weapons and serves Israel’s relentless attempts to cover up its ongoing crimes against Palestinians by normalizing its presence in the Arab world. This normalization serves to break the growing international isolation of Israel as an apartheid, settler-colonial state.

It is disheartening that some Arab artists are also taking part in this charade, serving the purpose of polishing and legitimizing the UAE government’s normalization with apartheid Israel by playing on the same platform as Israeli bands. Mega stars Kadim al-Sahir (Iraq), Muhammad Abdo (SA), Nancy Ajram (Lebanon), Omar al-Abdallat (Jordan), Ragheb Alama (Lebanon), Sami Yusef (Azerbaijan), Abdul Rahman Muhammad (SA) and Ahlam al-Shamsi (UAE) should be ashamed of themselves. Have they not heard about the growing list of international artists who refuse to provide apartheid Israel with a fig leaf of legitimacy?  Sally Rooney and Susan Sarandon are just two of many, perhaps the most vocal of whom is Roger Waters. 

It is as if the minimum of moral support that the Palestinian people are asking the Arab world for is meaningless, and as if the news about the children’s blood being shed on Al-Wahda Street and in the Shuja’iyah neighborhood, and the displacement of the people of Sheikh Jarrah, did not reach these particular Arab ears.

At the same time, and perpetuating the crime of normalization, the Kingdom of Bahrain has opened an embassy in Tel Aviv. Now we have the obscenity of reactionary Arab regimes strategically linking their interests to those of apartheid Israel, while international civil society, intellectuals and artists are responding positively to the struggle of the Palestinian people by heeding the BDS call issued in 2005 by Palestinian Civil Society.

The many intellectuals, artists, writers and athletes who responded to the BDS call made by the oppressed people of South Africa were welcomed as contributors to the victory over one of the ugliest regimes in history, and rightly so. Likewise, we will celebrate with Sally Rooney and Susan Sarandon, and the thousands of other writers, artists and cultural icons who stand on the right side of history and refuse to give Israel’s colonial apartheid regime what it craves in order to whitewash its racist face. As for those Arab artists who have allowed themselves to be cast in such a role, history will judge them accordingly.

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University; he has written widely on the Arab-Israeli conflict