Irish author Sally Rooney refuses to let Israeli publisher translate her novel

Sally Rooney. Photo by Chris Boland / www.chrisboland.com

Irish author Sally Rooney has refused to let an Israeli publisher translate her new novel into Hebrew in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The acclaimed writer said she supports calls to boycott Israel over its apartheid policies towards the Palestinians.

However, she said it would “be an honour” to have Beautiful World, Where Are You translated into Hebrew by a company which shared her political position.

Rooney issued the following statement:

“Firstly I was very proud to have my previous two novels translated into Hebrew by Katya Benovits. I would like to thank everyone involved in the publication of those books for supporting my work. Likewise it would be an honour for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers. But for the moment, I’ve chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house.

“Earlier this year the international campaign group Human Rights Watch published a report entitled ‘A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.’ That report, coming on the heels of a similarly damning report by Israel’s most prominent human rights organisation B’Tselem, 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.

“The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a Palestinian-led anti-racist and non-violent 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 modelled on the economic and cultural boycott that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

“Of course, many states other than Israel are guilty of grievous human rights abuses. 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.

“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.

“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 BDS movement 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. Thank you.”

Following Rooney’s announcement that she would turn down a bid by Israeli publisher Modan for the rights to translate the book, a senior Israeli minister said such boycotts were a form of antisemitism.

Tweeting in Hebrew, Israel’s Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai said: “The cultural boycott of Israel, antisemitism in a new guise, is a certificate of poor conduct for her and others who behave like her.”

And in the UK the Board of Deputies of British Jews said:

Israel has long claimed BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by antisemitism. It vehemently rejects any comparison with apartheid and called the HRW report “preposterous and false.”

Rooney has received several book prizes in the UK, including The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award in 2017 and a Costa Book Award in 2018.

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