Sally Rooney’s Disingenuous Response to Antisemitism Allegations

Photo by Chris Boland /

Yesterday, I posted how Irish author Sally Rooney won’t allow her recently published novel, “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” to be published in Hebrew, because she supports BDS. In that post, I asked:

Does this mean Rooney will be working with a Hebrew publisher outside of Israel? Does this mean Rooney will also be refusing to publish her book in Chinese or Russian, over China’s or Russia’s very real human rights violations. Because unless the answer to both those questions is a resounding yes, her decision singling out the Jewish state – no, Jews – is nothing short of antisemitism.

Rooney has since released a statement clarifying her position, which actually addresses both the points I raised:

In a statement released on Tuesday, Rooney explained her decision, writing that while she was “very proud” to have had her previous novels translated into Hebrew, she has for now “chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house”.

The statement expressed her desire to support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), a campaign that works to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law”.

“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 organization 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,” Rooney’s statement read.

“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.”

She went on to acknowledge that not everyone will agree with her, but that she did not feel it would be right to collaborate 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’s 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”, she said.

Regarding the first point, Rooney ostensibly sounds reasonable. She is fine with a Hebrew translation, just by selling the rights in a way “compliant with the BDS guidelines.” But when you think about it deeper, you realize on a practical level, she really is withholding the book from being translated into Hebrew.

According to the BDS movement:

Does BDS call for a boycott of the whole of Israel or just the illegal settlements?

As in the boycott against apartheid South Africa, the BDS movement calls for a boycott of Israel’s entire regime of oppression, including all of the Israeli companies and institutions that are involved in its violations of international law. BDS does not target identity. It strictly targets companies and institutions based on complicity in denying Palestinian rights.

For example, we call for a boycott of all Israeli fruit and vegetables, regardless of whether they are grown inside Israel or in an illegal Israeli settlements because all Israeli agricultural businesses are involved in human rights violations. We also call for a boycott of all Israeli universities, because they are implicated, to various degrees, in the design, implementation, justification, or whitewash of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

Just like South Africa under apartheid, Israel as a state is responsible for the occupation, colonization and apartheid policies that it implements.

Some of our biggest campaigns are against companies that operate in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. However, support for a full boycott of Israel’s regime of oppression is widespread. Academic associations and groups of academics, writers and artists in the US, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, and across Europe have come out in support of an academic and/or cultural boycott of Israel.

As our movement grows, so do our skills, ambitions and ability to achieve tangible, strategic and sustainable results. Targets are regularly reassessed as the BDS movement grows. ​

Based on these guidelines, any Hebrew-publisher would necessarily be “implicated, to various degrees, in the design, implementation, justification, or whitewash of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians” by doing business with Israel, which of course would be practically their only market, given the vast majority of the world’s Hebrew speakers and readers live in Israel. In other words, there is no such thing as a “BDS-compliant” Hebrew publisher!

Regarding the second point, Rooney acknowledges other countries are engaged in human rights abuses, but does not really address why she is singling out Israel, only mentioning she is “responding to the call from Palestinian civil society.” This does not explain why she does not respond to the calls from Tibetan civil society, or Uyghur civil society.

In other words, the wordsmith is using semantics to try and hide the ugly truth: her actions ARE well and truly antisemitic.


David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media

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