Like many Israelis, Shelley Goldman, a retired Tel Aviv-based book and newspaper editor, was shocked when Irish author Sally Rooney said she would not sell the Hebrew rights to her latest book to a house edition that does not respect the boycott. , the guidelines of the divestment and sanctions movement.
Rooney said in a statement Tuesday that did not mean she opposed the translation of “Beautiful World, Where Are You” into Hebrew. “If I can find a way to sell these rights that meets the BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very happy and proud to do so,” said the rising literary star.
For Goldman, it’s a distinction without a difference.
“I don’t think that’s possible, and what does that even mean?” ” she said. “Hebrew is the language of Israel. Where, Goldman wondered aloud, would Rooney find a Hebrew-language publisher who adheres to the strict cultural boycott principles of the BDS movement?
For many in the Israeli literary world, the stance Rooney has taken in support of the Palestinians smacks of hypocrisy. Rooney’s previous books – “Conversations with Friends” and “Normal People” – have been translated into more than 20 languages and distributed in countries, critics say, with serious human rights concerns.
“When your criticisms are directed at one country and not at all the others, what else can we think of? Goldman said. “She’s a hypocrite and an anti-Semite.”
Rooney has won fans among many Palestinians, however, who are grateful that she has so publicly, and with her own work, supported BDS. Hanan Ashrawi, activist and former Palestinian Authority minister, tweeted Tuesday: “Real solidarity and empathy. Sally Rooney refuses to be complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel. Quality literature makes all the difference.
Genuine solidarity and empathy. Sally Rooney refuses to be complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel. Quality literature makes all the difference. https://t.co/xEAjPRoTFY – Hanan Ashrawi (@DrHananAshrawi) October 13, 2021
But even some Israelis sympathetic to the Palestinian cause question Rooney’s decision. Given Israel’s small market, no one will suffer economically if their work is not published in Hebrew in Israel. But shouldn’t any author, they ask, want their voice to be heard across cultures?
A pro-BDS Hebrew editor?
In Israel, the Modan Publishing House handled the Hebrew publication of Rooney’s two previous books. A representative of the company said The New York Times that Rooney, offering no explanation, informed Modan that he would not publish his third novel.
Rooney’s decision first made the news in the Hebrew press, in Haaretz, then in English on Monday in the Cheeky, and is now featured in major media outlets around the world. Her vocal membership in BDS was seen as a major victory for the BDS movement, the latest in a winning streak, and particularly sweet for Palestinian rights activists as Rooney is an award-winning, acclaimed international bestselling author. for his sensitive portraits. human relations.
The cultural boycott of Israel by the BDS movement calls on international cultural workers and cultural organizations, including unions and associations, “to boycott and / or work towards the cancellation of events, activities, agreements or projects involving Israel, its pressure groups or its cultural institutions. . “In other words, anything relating to Israel – and not just the territories captured by Israel during the Middle East War of 1967 – must be avoided.
These restrictions make Rooney’s assurances that she would be “honored” to have her book translated into Hebrew ring hollow to Efrat Lev, director of foreign rights at the Debra Harris literary agency in Jerusalem. “Despite his announcement, according to the facts on the ground, the only Hebrew publishers are in Israel,” Lev said.
In his statement, Rooney said his Hebrew editor should “publicly distance himself from apartheid.” No publisher in Israel, Lev said, could do that and then expect the Israelis to buy his books. This is the case, she continued, even though the majority of Israeli publishing houses and the people who work there are politically liberal.
“Most of the people I know are in the center and on the left. There are small presses that have a clear left-wing agenda, “but even they won’t openly support the BDS movement, Lev said.
Lev also accused Rooney of selectively targeting Israel. “It is not fair to demand that. Is Rooney doing this in China or in Russia? both known for their human rights violations. “Personally, hypocrisy bothers me. The Israeli edition is subject to impossible standards.
But Rebecca Vilkomerson, the former executive director of the pro-BDS Jewish Voice for Peace – tweeted on Wednesday that finding a pro-BDS Hebrew-language editor in Israel was not that far-fetched, and pointed to Andalus, a press which published in Hebrew in 2009 “The Shock Doctrine”, a book by American author Naomi Klein, which supports BDS.
Just a note: In 2009, Naomi Klein found a way to publish in Hebrew while respecting the boycott, so the accusation that Sally Rooney is de facto “boycotting Hebrew” is ludicrous. pic.twitter.com/oWb7x1wBLy– Rebecca Vilkomerson (@RVilkomerson) October 13, 2021
When alerted to Andalus’ disappearance, Vilkomerson launched another tweet: It’s not Rooney’s problem, but Israel’s, if it doesn’t have a BDS-compliant press, and “Having standards about who you post with doesn’t mean you boycott a language.” She added that that wouldn’t stop some people from unfairly labeling Rooney an anti-Semite.
Minimal economic impact
Withholding a Hebrew translation of his latest book won’t have much of an impact on Israeli society or Rooney’s bottom line, according to Israeli writer Anshel Pfeffer, who tweeted about Rooney’s boycott efforts.
“BDS has been around for 16 years, but besides generating a lot of noise, it has had no impact on Israel, which has seen massive growth in foreign trade and relations during this period. It’s nothing more than a social media wheeze from Western Keyboard Warriors.
All of this explains why “BDS” has been around for 16 years, but besides generating a lot of noise, it has had no impact on Israel which has seen massive growth in foreign trade and relations during this period. It’s nothing more than wheezing on the social media of Western Keyboard Warriors. – Anshel Pfeffer אנשיל פפר (@AnshelPfeffer) 12 October 2021
Israel’s literary scene is very strong, but tiny by world standards. According to the National Library of Israel, 87% of books published in Israel in 2020 were “original literature,” most of them written in Hebrew. Its English to Hebrew translation niche is even smaller. Books translated into Hebrew accounted for 74 percent of all translated works, while the remainder was translated from German, Spanish or French.
And while most Israelis can speak Hebrew, a large percentage read books in their native language, most commonly English, Russian, Arabic, or French. And ultra-Orthodox Jews rarely read mainstream books.
“Selling 5,000 copies of a book is a Hebrew bestseller,” Lev said. “The first print run of an average book is 2,000 copies.”
Joanna Chen, Israeli writer and literary translator who mainly translates from Hebrew to English and writes for the Los Angeles Book Review, urged Rooney to use his fame to educate, not to boycott. “I think if she really wants to make a difference, she should use her writing skills to make her work accessible to everyone,” she said.
Chen said she had previously translated a poem by Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, whom Israel once jailed for incitement. “I translated her lyrics to the non-Arab world not because I absolutely agree with her point of view, but because I wanted to give English speakers the opportunity to understand where she was coming from.”
If Rooney were to engage with Hebrew speakers, Chen continued, “I think she will find out that they will listen, but they cannot listen and they cannot read unless it is in Hebrew.” Translation “allows us to visit worlds that are unknown to us, but not if it closes the door on Hebrew speakers,” Chen said.
Goldman agreed and said BDS is cutting off the dialogue by letting people choose sides. She spoke of a friend whose child was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack. This friend joined the Parents Circle, a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents.
“The friend told me that if we can compromise, anyone can. If you’ve already chosen a side, you’re part of the problem, not the solution.
‘A hypocrite’: Israelis in edition say Sally Rooney turns her back on Hebrew readers