Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Larger Context

The New York Times has reported

The Irish novelist Sally Rooney said on Tuesday that she would not allow the Israeli publishing house that handled her previous novels to publish her most recent book, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” because of her support for Palestinian people and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

In an email, Ms. Rooney said that she was proud to have her first two books, “Normal People” and “Conversations With Friends,” published in Hebrew. “Likewise, it would be an honor for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers,” she said. “But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house.”

Support on Twitter for Rooney's position was impressive, including from one individual maintaining

Sally Rooney did not turn down her work being translated into Hebrew, she turned down allowing an Israeli publisher with ties to the IDF translating her work. Do not let people miss the latter part to smear this as anti-semitic.

Nonetheless, a contrasting sentiment:

Sally Rooney’s novels are available in Chinese and Russian. Doesn’t she care about the Uighurs? Or Putin-defying journalists? To judge Israel by a different standard than the rest of the world is antisemitism.

Fortunately, there is an answer to Franklin's question.   On The New Statesman's article "TheSally Rooney Hebrew row-explained, Emily Tankin asked "what about other countries with human rights abuses, such as China or Saudi Arabia?" Tankin noted

Rooney’s response to this was: “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.”

Without actually conceding that China or Saudi Arabia is guilty of human rights abuses, Rooney has stated the undeniable: "Many states other than Israel are guilty of grievous human rights abuses." This is analogous to an individual making an insensitive, offensive remark and responding to criticism resisting apology, stating "I apologize to anyone I may have offended."  Rooney deftly avoids accusing any nation, in this case China or Saudi Arabia, of human rights abuses.

But she does name Israel, "responding to the call from Palestinian civil society." She thereby pivots quickly from the notion that any nation other than Israel may abuse human rights, and invokes the apartheid previously practiced by South Africa. She cannot call out China or Saudi Arabia.  Nor Cuba, Libya, Pakistan, Bolivia, Russia, or any other nation abusing its own people.

No, it's only Israel she can name. And she does so by smearing it as an apartheid state, comparing it to the long discredited and overthrown South African regime.

It is impossible to determine whether Rooney is anti-Semitic as opponents of BDS suggest she is an anti-Semitic while supporters of the movement will vigorously defender her against the charge. Additionally, her particular motive is relatively inconsequential. She should not be canceled; her works still should be published if of literary value, and individuals comfortable with the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East should personally disavow her.

Of more importance is the BDS movement itself. Last month, as preparations were being made for the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, law professor, human rights activist and former Canadian politician Irwin Cotler informed us

A global campaign against Israel as an “ethnic cleansing, criminal, and apartheid state” was launched in the immediate aftermath of post-Durban calls for the dismantling of Israel as a “racist apartheid state.” The first UN Human Rights Commission meeting in the aftermath of Durban sought to single out Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment with a majority of all resolutions passed indicting Israel, while the major international human rights violators, such as Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Iran, enjoyed exculpatory immunity. A meeting at the University of Michigan that served as a launching pad for the BDS Movement rejected a resolution “calling for a two-state solution if Israel were to become a democratic state” — problematic in itself — in favor of a resolution “calling for the dismantling of Israel as a racist apartheid state.”

This is about the perseverance of a vulnerable, pro-American and democratic state in the Middle East. It is bigger, far more important than one highly acclaimed, misguided Irish novelist.  


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