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Readers respond to Sally Rooney’s boycott of Israel

We received a slew of responses after publishing an Opinion article on Monday by Gitit Levy-Paz about the novelist Sally Rooney’s decision not to have her latest book translated into Hebrew by an Israeli publisher.

Rooney, a celebrated Irish author who was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2018, said in a statement on Tuesday that, in a shift from her first two novels, she had decided not to sell the Hebrew translation rights to an Israeli company because of her support for Palestinian rights and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“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 U.N.-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people,” she said. “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’s institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very pleased and proud to do so.”

Meanwhile, dozens of readers shared their views on Rooney’s decision, and on Levy-Paz’s column, which argued that it is antisemitic. Here are excerpts, lightly edited for clarity and length (to add your perspective, email [email protected]).

Please could you explain to me, how excluding a country from reading your latest novel helps the Israeli/Palestinian coexistence? I have lived in Israel, side by side with Israeli Jews and Arabs alike. It is interesting to see how people who usually have never been to Israel or even met an Israeli can be so prejudiced towards them.

Please ask the author: Is she considering withholding her books being printed in other countries? China, Iran, Iraq, Russia, India to name just a few countries who have abhorrent rules for women, homosexuals and anyone who disagrees with their policies.

Jenny Wilks

An argument against Israeli government actions against Palestinians is NOT an attack on the Jewish faith. It is NOT religious — it IS a political stance against the government.

If you want the book translated into Hebrew, argue with the Israeli government to moderate its abysmal treatment of the Palestinian people. Get your head out of the sand, petition for better treatment, a fairer society and Rooney might relent.

Richard A Leighton

Did she refuse to have her books sold in England due to the British occupation of Northern Ireland or into Arabic because of the treatment of women in the Arab world?

Joel Goldberg

The truth is very simple. Ms. Rooney’s stance is antisemitic. So that makes her an antisemite.

Stephen Schecter

As a Jewish woman whose family perished in the Shoah, I found Dr. Levy-Paz’s essay both facile and disappointing. A poor showing for Jewish intellectuals everywhere. A shonda.

While she shared her opinion on the purpose of literature — “to bring a sense of coherence and order to the world” — she neglected, at the expense of her own argument, to reflect upon the purpose of boycotts. What are they for? Who uses them—when, and why?

A boycott is a nonviolent tool of protest that aims to inflict a negative consequence upon some entity — a state, a business, a person, a community —in the hopes that the negative (and, again, nonviolent) consequence will lead to a desired outcome. In this case, the boycott of Hebrew translation is designed to awaken the Israeli population to the grotesque, violent apartheid Israel perpetrates against the Palestinian people.

The tragic irony in all this is that the essay didn’t mention Palestine or apartheid once. Is the author boycotting those words, or honest intellectual engagement with Rooney’s choice?

I hope it was as embarrassing for her to argue “I’m not saying they’re the same thing, but Sally Rooney and Nazis both used boycotts” as it was for me to read it. The Nazis used toilet paper — should we stop doing that, too? Is anyone who uses toilet paper suspect? Is their timing suspect?

The choice to connect boycotts to Nazis —rather than, say, the civil rights movement— is appalling, cynical, and a shame on the memory of all who were lost under their brutal regime. Just as the apartheid state of Israel is a shame on the memory of my great-grandparents. I applaud Rooney for using her platform to raise awareness of one of the most urgent moral issues of our lifetime.

It is our moral inheritance as human beings — and, especially, as Jews — to stand firmly against apartheid, genocide, and ethnic cleansings.

Mackenzie Kimmel

Such a disappointing decision by Sally Rooney! I have read two of her other novels and could clearly detect an anti-Israel bias in both, which I tried to ignore because she is such a good writer.

I am sad and angry that she is holding the transmission of literature hostage to her political beliefs. Also, the implicit anti-Zionist messages in her other books have now become explicit reality and I have lost all desire to read her new book.

Sybil Ginsburg

How dare Gitit Levy-Paz use guilt and fear by comparing the boycotting of Israel by principled people against apartheid to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany?

The owners of those businesses in Germany were individuals, for one thing…not a government. Furthermore, they had done nothing but be Jewish to merit that treatment.

Israel commits crimes against humanity on a daily basis by design. Its military supports settler violence against civilians — it would be very easy for Israel to put a stop to that if it wanted to. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has stated that he wants the Palestinians to leave.

The comparison is turned totally around from the reality.

Helen Kolsky

Maybe she is not antisemitic, but I am curious as to which other languages she refuses to allow for the translation of her work. Chinese? Arabic? Russian? Some progressives would say that more damage to the world has been perpetrated by English speaking peoples than any other. I am not so sure that she passes the not-antisemitic test.

Gregg Bannett

It’s pretty unlikely that Sally Rooney is antisemitic. Sally strikes me as a very intelligent, nuanced human being.

It’s more likely that she is supporting the two-state solution in Israel. It is more likely she supports the Palestinian cause.

Kevin Pohl

Sally Rooney’s courageous stand against Israel is great news, and, now perhaps, more distinguished authors, poets, and artists will see fit to follow. For too long, Israel’s impunity from any kind of accountability and justice has remained sacrosanct. Until The Jewish State can be thoroughly de-Zionized, it should be treated across the board as the pariah nation it conducts itself as.

Lisa Brewer

Did you ask whether her novel is being translated into Chinese? Because if it is, that’s flat-out antisemitism.

Lisa Simmons

My dad’s family were Irish Jews from Clanbrassil Street, Dublin. I find it very sad that the younger generations in Ireland appear to be unaware of the huge support the Jewish community gave to the Irish independence movement. Although only recently arrived in Dublin, their Zionist instincts and Yiddish speaking allowed them to instantly sympathise with the Irish struggle to free themselves from British imperialism. Jabotinsky visited, Yiddish theatre groups played at the Abbey Theatre.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Ms Rooney’s approach is that the TV version of Normal People was directed by Lenny Abrahamson, himself a grandson of a Jewish immigrant family of that period. They did well. The Abrahamsons were senior respected doctors and dentists in Dublin, Presidents of the Irish Colleges of Medicine, a profession some of the family still follow.

Robert Briscoe was the Mayor of Dublin and active within the Irish Independence movement travelling to Germany to seek assistance prior to 1916. Hi son Ben was also a senator. The chief rabbi of Israel and his son Chaim Herzog, much loved president, lived in Dublin (and Belfast) for many years, only leaving in 1937. The Jewish families sent their kids to Irish schools where they learnt the Irish language.

So, someone needs to talk to the young people of Dublin and show them the bigger picture, Lenny himself, perhaps. I won’t be reading any more of her books.

Mandi Abrahams

We are the “people of the book.” Jews are generally great readers and consumers of literature. I, for one, will be boycotting her books no matter how great a writer the critics claim she is, just as I don’t listen to Wagner. She has chosen to single out Israel for her moral stance but not other regimes which are horrific offenders of human rights. Perhaps it is really just an economic issue for her.

Bette Pesikoff

It’s quite amazing to see intellectuals use apartheid and Israel in the same sentence.

What other country would warn civilians in enemy territories to evacuate buildings before dropping bombs on Hamas terrorists? What other country allows women and children in surrounding enemy countries into their hospitals for emergency surgeries and treatment, for free? What other country sends aid to countries throughout the world when they suffer serious calamities (think earthquakes in Haiti, building collapses in the U.S., etc.).

If Ms. Rooney is so concerned with Israel occupation, has she suspended her book releases on the many countries that have committed significantly more atrocities than IsraeI. I think not.

There can be only one reason she singles out Israel. We know it and the world knows it as well.

David Horowitz

Is it a coincidence that an Irish writer wants to support Palestinians by boycotting Israel, when there were Irish attacking Jews long before there was a State of Israel? James Joyce was appalled by it and thrashed it out in Ulysses.

If Ms Rooney really wanted to help Palestinians she could join any one of the many Israeli organizations (New Israel Fund, Tag Meir, etc etc) which do just that without demanding the destruction of Israel, which is the express demand of the boycotters.

Once again, people use bad Israeli policies as an excuse to attack the existence of the State itself.

Charles Heller

Sally Rooney has taken a principled position. She has that right. It’s getting more and more common for young people to take the position that Israel is a violently apartheid state. It’s all they hear in their progressive circles.

Responding to missile and terrorist attacks from Hamas or Hezbollah is, by definition, violent, but the purpose is self-defense. Gaza could experience growth and prosperity, but Hamas is more inclined to destroy Israel and the Jewish people.

If you are looking for a murderous regime, you need to go no further than Hamas, or Syria, or Saudi Arabia. Not one of Israel’s neighbors will allow any group that differs from the ruling class to survive. Israel is the only country in the region that is NOT apartheid. So, let Ms. Rooney take this stance; Israelis are not interested in what she has to say.

Jamie Platt

As a progressive socialist, Ms. Rooney has every right to do what she wants with her book.

She wants to make a statement, not against her Israeli readers, but against the settlements and the treatment of Palestinians and their land.

Really. Read the writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane and Rabbi Tzvi Kook to see that I am right about this.

Jack Nusan Porter

The negative responses toward Israel to Levy-Paz’s article are disturbing in their false references to apartheid Zionist occupation and other subjective ire. Sally Rooney should visit Israel as should some of the other critics to witness truth and the injustice of some of their antisemitic prejudice.

David Ellman

Not discussed is Ms. Rooney’s age. She is 31, which means she was 10 when Arafat rejected the first of three state offers that sparked the Second Intifada. Ms. Rooney was no older than 17 when the Palestinians began what some people think of as a third Intifada. How aware is she of those situations?

I can say quite clearly that Ms. Rooney didn’t have to deal with a world where Jews became international targets of violence in the name of the Palestinians. The Munich Games, airplane hijackings, and the Achille Lauro all happened before her parents met each other.

One of your letter writers discussed how, as Jews, we need to stand up against apartheid, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. Uh, that is why Israel was created, to give Jews a fair chance on this planet. Meanwhile, BDS is trying to wipe out the ethnicity of Jews in the Middle East.

Yes, the lack of knowledge is astounding.

I will never read this woman’s books. And I hope this decision of hers is a stain on her legacy. BDS is nothing but hatred, war, and intimidation. Which is exactly what BDSers claim they are fighting. It’s absolutely absurd.

Asher Garber

Those who say Ms. Rooney’s position is antisemitic because she isn’t refusing to have her novel translated into Chinese, Russian, etc. are missing a crucial point. A boycott is useless as an individual act. Like a strike, it’s an effective political tactic only if many people participate — that is, if it’s part of a movement. I’m not aware of any systematic boycotts of Chinese or Russian institutions. Perhaps if such existed, Ms. Rooney would join them too.

Joanne Tuller

The Palestinian BDS campaign is directly inspired by the boycott campaign against South Africa. Crucially, the international SA Anti-Apartheid boycott movement developed to follow a local call, issued in South Africa by the representatives of the oppressed population, and in accordance with their chosen mode of nonviolent resistance.

Along similar lines, the present day international BDS movement developed as a result of a popular call, issued originally in 2005 and repeated multiple times since, by a broad range of Palestinian civil organizations. This is not some Western anti-Israel conspiracy, but a popular mode of nonviolent resistance that was developed directly by those who endure Israel’s occupation and apartheid daily, and which is being pursued, internationally, as a result.

It might be worthwhile to note in this context that Roony explicitly noted that she is not boycotting the Hebrew language, and it stands to reason that she is not boycotting the population either. She is boycotting a publishing house; i.e., a business.

Very regrettably, there are many unjust, oppressive regimes on the face of the earth that deserve to be brought down. At present, however, there are no representative popular calls for the boycott of China, or Brazil, or, for that matter, the United States or France, for many systematic infringements of the rights of sections of their population.

Accusations of Roony or any other boycotting agents of duplicity would only be justified if and when well-reasoned representative popular calls for other boycotts are issued, and such agents nonetheless opt to exercise boycott exclusively against Israel.

Hagit Borer

Do you have a take on Rooney’s decision or Levy-Paz’s argument? Send to [email protected] and we may add it here.

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