A few weeks ago, Teen Vogue ran an article reporting on the decision of best-selling Irish author Sally Rooney not to have her latest novel translated into Hebrew by a publisher in Israel. The article was titled, “Sally Rooney Boycotts Israeli ‘Apartheid,’ Refuses Work With Publishers.”
In a statement, Rooney claimed she is not antisemitic, but merely acting in line with “the BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines.” No one should be surprised at Rooney’s decision — anyone who has read her books could have seen this coming. But Rooney’s selective hostility towards Israel is concerning, and comes amid a surge of anti-Israel hate in Ireland.
In the past, Rooney has openly displayed her hostility towards Israel. In her novel “Normal People,” both main characters attended a 2014 protest against Operation Protective Edge (Israel’s defensive war against Hamas). The author was keen to see antisemite Jeremy Corbyn elected UK prime minister, which gives an insight into her sensitivities regarding antisemitism.
In 2019, Rooney signed a letter in support of a pro-BDS author who saw a German literary award for “tolerance, respect and reconciliation” withdrawn over her support for BDS. This year, she was a signatory to a letter which libeled Israel as an “apartheid state” and its people as “violent colonizers.
Rooney states that she would like to see a Hebrew translation of her latest work if it can comply with the “BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines.” In other words, there is now a Palestinian veto over her relations with Jews and the Jewish state.
Rooney whitewashes the true character of the BDS movement. Ignoring the fact that the US, Canada, Germany, and Israel have all branded the movement as antisemitic, Rooney compares the movement to the South African boycott campaign against apartheid (in that case, it really was apartheid). But there are several issues with this.
First, the pseudo-comparison of Israel to an apartheid state is illusory, and an insult to the actual apartheid suffered in South Africa.
Israel’s Arab citizens play a vital role in the country’s democracy, and in all walks of life. Arabs in Israel are judges, generals, ambassadors, MKs, sport stars — the list goes on. In fact, an Islamist Arab party with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood are a coalition party in Israel’s current government. Upon even a cursory examination, the apartheid libel is quickly exposed.
The BDS movement is a movement which explicitly seeks to destroy the Jewish state. Omar Barghouti, one of the chief proponents of BDS, has stated on at least 13 occasions that the group’s objective is to eliminate the Jewish state. This is well-publicized, yet Rooney persists in her fealty to BDS, which leaves only two options — either she is willfully ignorant of BDS’ antisemitism, or she does not object.
Also, if Rooney is so concerned with principled boycotts, why is her book available in Chinese?
Uighur Muslims are being tortured in concentration camps, while the Chinese Communist Party wages demographic warfare to end their existence. This example — one of many — demonstrates that Rooney, like many others, applies a standard to Israel to which no other nation is held.
Rooney’s anti-Israel action comes against a dark backdrop in Ireland. The particular enmity of the anti-Israel movement in Ireland is infamous. Political parties, such as the Sinn Féin and People Before Profit, have a systematic issue of antisemitism in their ranks. This is not new — but unfortunately, a reliable constant of Irish politics.
A recent report by investigative journalist David Collier has documented the blight of antisemitism across Irish politics, media, and society. From Holocaust denial, to 9/11 conspiracy theories, to a Sinn Féin leader liking a “Hitler was Right” comment, the report showed that antisemitism is not only tolerated within Irish society, but has become the vernacular for those who hate Israel.
The report itself was released to the Irish media, and sent to all Oireachtas members (the Oireachtas is the legislature of Ireland). At the time of this writing, there has been negligible acknowledgement of the report in the national media. The report was largely ignored in the Oireachtas, and the harrowing findings did not get the circulation they merited.
However, all national media publications have covered (if not defended) Rooney’s BDS embrace.
Ireland has shown itself to be an outlier in its attitudes towards Israel and antisemitism. There are a great many allies of Israel and the Jewish people who still speak out in Ireland. However, they are the minority. Rooney and her ilk are the majority — and they often stray into antisemitic territory.
The refusal of an Irish author to translate her novel into the language of the Jewish people — or allow it to be sold in Israel — should not be seen as an isolated incident. Rather, this act serves to further darken the ever-growing cloud of antisemitism hanging over Ireland.
Daniel O’Dowd is a UK Campus Associate for CAMERA On Campus.