Sally Rooney’s nonsensical anti-Israel statement

Sally Rooney, not a human rights defender (theguardian.com).

The controversy surrounding Irish author Sally Rooney’s new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, appears to be on the downswing. Now that Rooney has clarified that she takes issue with Israel, and not the Hebrew language spoken by Israelis, the public discussion has morphed. At least in some quarters, there appears to be less heat and more understanding.

Rooney’s public statement on the subject must have made sense to her, and perhaps it pleased her publisher. But it is nonsensical.

Rooney writes , “It would be an honour for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers.” She then explains, “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. The Hebrew language translation rights to my new novel are still available, and if I can find a way to sell these rights that is compliant with the [boycott, divestment, and sanctions] movement’s institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very pleased and proud to do so.”

It remains unclear what it would mean for an Israeli publisher to “publicly distance itself” from nonexistent “apartheid.” Deport itself?

Eugene Kontorovich, director of the Center for the Middle East and International Law at George Mason University Scalia Law School, told me, “The purpose of apartheid blood libels by groups like Human Rights Watch [which Rooney cites as a source] is to give cover for those who don’t want to do business with Jews, as the refusal to translate a book into Hebrew shows. The apartheid claim is an inversion of all truth, but like prior blood libels, it signals that it is socially acceptable to discriminate against Jews.”

This whole controversy, ostensibly about the translation of a dull-sounding book , is actually another episode in the tug of war over whether it is just to stigmatize Israel alone among the nations. And it is Israel alone. Rooney’s statement notes that “many states other than Israel are guilty of grievous human rights abuses.” Yet, she notably withholds translation from only one.

That Rooney sides with Israel boycotters isn’t surprising. Her first two books included characters attending an anti-Israel protest during Israel’s war with Gaza in 2014 and expressing displeasure that “We end up asking like, is Israel ‘nicer’ than Palestine.”

In May, while Israeli civilians were racing to bomb shelters to avoid Hamas’ rockets, Rooney signed “A Letter Against Apartheid,” which called for “an immediate and unconditional cessation of Israeli violence against Palestinians.” Rooney has also called the BDS movement an “anti-racist and nonviolent grassroots campaign.” That is, as opposed to, say, an antisemitic campaign that opposes the very existence of Israel (and vilifies Zionist Jews on American college campuses).

Rooney’s statement suggests that we imagine someone who might translate this novel into Hebrew while also being BDS compliant. A Hebrew-speaking Jew from Gaza? That wouldn’t work, because Jews haven’t lived in Gaza since Israel left in 2005. Perhaps a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian? No, such a person would incur the wrath of the BDS movement. So who does that leave?

Further, “there’s no such thing as a ‘BDS-compliant’ Hebrew publisher,” tweeted Anshel Pfeffer of the left-leaning Haaretz. “To be that, a publisher would have to agree to not selling its books in Israel and to Israelis who are … the overwhelming majority of the Hebrew-reading market.”

Like Ben and Jerry’s announcing it will continue selling ice cream in Israel — just not beyond the Green Line — Rooney’s supposedly ideal translator and publishing house are absurd. Ben and Jerry’s has operated in Israel since 1987, and Rooney’s last two books were translated into Hebrew. However, neither Ben and Jerry’s nor Sally Rooney seem interested in continuing to do business in Israel.

When ice cream makers and novelists apply a double standard to the world’s only Jewish state, there’s a term for that — and it’s not “human rights defender.”

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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