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Sally Rooney says she objects to Israeli publisher, not Hebrew translation

Sally Rooney speaks onstage during the Hulu Panel at Winter TCA 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 17, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu via JTA)
Sally Rooney speaks onstage during the Hulu Panel at Winter TCA 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 17, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu via JTA)

The bestselling author Sally Rooney says she decided not to publish her latest novel with an Israeli publishing house because she supports a boycott of Israel, but added that a non-Israeli press could still publish the book in Hebrew.

Rooney’s statement confirms a report by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last month that Rooney declined to sell Hebrew publishing rights for her new book, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” to Modan Publishing House, an Israeli press that published her first two novels in Hebrew.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency and others this week characterized Rooney’s decision not to work Modan as a decision not to allow her critically acclaimed book to be translated into Hebrew at all. Rooney says that is not true.

“It would be an honour for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers,” the statement says. “But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house.”

Whether that’s possible is unclear: The Hebrew-language publishing industry is centered in Israel, the only country where Hebrew is an official language.

Rooney, 30, the Irish author of the acclaimed 2018 novel “Normal People,” has been called one of the world’s premier millennial authors. Her books have topped bestseller charts, gotten television deals and been praised for their depiction of urbane millennial life and romance.

She had expressed her support for the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS, in July, when she was one of thousands of artists to sign a letter urging an end to international aid to Israel as well as “trade, economic and cultural relations.” That came shortly after Israel’s May conflict with Hamas in Gaza prompted renewed international criticism of Israel, including a wave of boycott calls.

Citing recent reports by Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, Rooney says in her statement that “Israel’s system of racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law.” (Human Rights Watch said that “Israeli authorities systematically discriminate” against Palestinians in a way that “amounts to the systematic oppression required for apartheid.” B’tselem said that Israel maintains an apartheid regime” that “uses laws, practices and organized violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another.“)

Anticipating questions about whether she is permitting translations in China or other countries with records of human rights abuses, Rooney acknowledges that many countries “are guilty of grievous human rights abuses,” but compares Israel to apartheid-era South Africa and says that she’s chosen to boycott in response to a call from Palestinian civil society.

“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,” she says.

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