Sally Rooney stands up for Palestine in face of smears

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  October 12, 2021

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.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada