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Sally Rooney’s Israeli publisher keeps selling her books even as chains shun her

Modan Publishing House says it won’t participate in a cultural boycott of any kind; East Jerusalem sellers report surging interest in Irish author after her criticism of Israel

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 Israeli publisher of Irish writer Sally Rooney said Sunday it would not stop selling her titles even after two major bookshop chains took them off their shelves in protest of her criticism of Israel.

The 30-year-old author of three novels said last month that she could not partner with a Hebrew publisher that did not “publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people.”

That prompted a furious reaction in Israel, including by the Steimatzky chain, which has 130 stores. The company removed Rooney’s works from its website, including the title at the center of the controversy, “Beautiful World, Where Are You.”

Tzomet Sfarim, a chain of about 90 stores, also stopped marketing Rooney’s 2018 “Normal People” online.

However, Modan Publishing House, which has translated her works, told AFP Sunday it would keep selling Rooney’s books despite her stance toward Israel.

“We do not support a cultural boycott, and therefore we will continue to sell Sally Rooney’s works as usual,” said Tali Thelet, a company spokeswoman.

While sales may suffer among Israelis, interest appeared to be soaring among Palestinians.

Ahmad Muna, manager of the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem, told AFP he had put in a fresh order for Rooney’s books in light of her comments.

“The problem is we’re not getting them as fast as we’d like to,” he said. “I think the statement she made about not wanting to be published by an Israeli publisher has opened a lot of interest.”

A book store from the Steimatzky chain, November 14 2012. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

In a statement issued through her literary representatives, the Wylie Agency, the Irish novelist has said she hopes to eventually find a Hebrew-language translator for “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” which came out last month.

However, critics noted that the chances of finding a Hebrew publishing house outside of Israel, the only Hebrew-speaking country in the world, were highly unlikely.

“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,” said Rooney, one of the world’s most popular and acclaimed young writers and a supporter of the Palestinians in the past.

In her statement, Rooney cited a pair of reports — by Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and New York-based Human Rights Watch — that claimed Israel is guilty of the international crime of apartheid because of alleged discriminatory policies toward Arab Israelis within its own borders and toward Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Those reports, she said, “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 also praised the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities. BDS says it seeks to end Israel’s control of lands captured in the 1967 Six Day War and what it describes as discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority. It also calls for the “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to homes their ancestors fled or were expelled from in the 1948 war during Israel’s creation.

Israeli officials vehemently reject the apartheid accusations, and Israel and other BDS opponents say that the BDS campaign encourages antisemitism and aims to delegitimize or even destroy Israel.

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