Sally Rooney defends decision to block Hebrew translation of third book

By Lucy Needham

Sally Rooney has defended her decision not to sell the translation rights to her new book to an Israeli-based publishing house.

The Irish author said she blocked the move to express her solidarity with the “Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality”.

In a statement Rooney, 30, said she felt unable to work with publisher Modan, describing it as a company 'that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people'.

Her third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, was published in September and went on to become a bestseller in the UK and Ireland.

It centres on the romantic exploits of an award-winning Irish novelist called Alice Kelleher and her experiences with friendship, love and class conflict.

Sally Rooney has defended her decision not to translate her latest novel into Hebrew (Getty Images)

Rooney said she was 'very proud' to have her first two novels - 2017’s Conversations With Friends and 2018’s Normal People – translated and published in Hebrew by Modan, but for now she had “chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house”.

She also expressed support for the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel.

In a statement she said: “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.

“I understand that not everyone will agree with my decision, but I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract 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.”

Rooney's novel Normal People was adapted into a hugely successful TV series starring Daisy Edgar-Jones Paul Mescal as lovers Marianne and Connell (PA)

In May, Rooney joined hundreds of writer and artists in signing A Letter Against Apartheid, which called for “an immediate and unconditional cessation of Israeli violence against Palestinians”.

Author Naomi Klein and singer Mykki Blanco were also among the signatories.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (Pacbi), a founding member of the BDS National Committee, voiced support for the move.

It said in a statement: “Rooney joins countless international authors in supporting the institutional cultural boycott of Israel’s complicit publishing sector, just as progressive artists once supported the boycott of apartheid South Africa.

Rooney pictured at the Costa Book Awards in 2018 (Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

“We note with pride the historic solidarity expressed by Irish cultural figures with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

“More than 1,300 artists have now signed Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of apartheid Israel.”

It added that “an exponentially growing number of artists, including Hollywood A-listers, musicians and visual artists, recognise their profound moral duty to do no harm to our liberation struggle”.

Normal People was adapted into a critically-acclaimed BBC Three series and a screen version of Conversations With Friends is in production.

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal co-starred as young lovers Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron in the screen version of Normal People, which became a lockdown hit and won Mescal a TV Bafta.

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