Sally Rooney, easily the most popular and critically lauded millennial novelist of the last few years, has been called the “Salinger of the Snapchat generation” by people who like stringing together words in a random order. Her novels have received international acclaim and inspired such debates as “are her fictional characters socialist or capitalist?” and “is that what this is really about, or are you just jealous of her?” But now, Rooney is the subject of perhaps the most demented and circular discourse of all: “Is participating in a boycott of Israel anti-Semitic?” (It’s not.)
An opinion column published yesterday by The Forward based on reporting from Haaretz claimed that Rooney blocked the rights of a Hebrew language translation of her latest novel Beautiful World, Where Are You as part of “cultural boycotts of Israel.” Of course, many people who should know better but do not used this news as as an excuse to regurgitate talking points about how the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement is inherently anti-Semitic. The Forward op-ed, which compares Rooney’s actions to “the first steps taken by the Nazi regime in Germany,” was shared by the likes of literary critic Ruth Franklin and New York Times media reporter Marc Tracy.
Anyone who has paid attention to Rooney over the years knows she is a long-time supporter of the Palestinian cause. Just this past spring, during the latest Israeli assault on Palestinians, she was one of thousands of artists to sign A Letter Against Apartheid, which called for an end to Israel’s occupation.
Today, in a statement released to The Guardian Rooney clarified her stance. Citing reports from both Human Rights Watch and Israel’s human rights organization B’Tselem, Rooney’s statement said, “Israel’s system of racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law.” Clarifying that, of course, Israel isn’t the only country guilty of human rights abuses, Rooney went on to say:
“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.”
Rooney made it clear that the Hebrew rights to Beautiful World, Where Are You are still available, and that she would be proud to sell the rights to her novel with a publishing house that is compliant with the BDS movement.
It’s rare to see someone as high-profile as Rooney support the BDS cause in an actionable way at risk of her own career. Her decision, as well as the clarity of her statement, are something I could not have imagined seeing a decade ago.