Skip to main content

Sally Rooney

Banning her own book in Israel

David Levenson/Getty Images

Let’s clear one thing up, says Em Hilton in Tribune: Sally Rooney is not an anti-semite. You might have thought from all the headlines this week that the Irish novelist was “boycotting the Hebrew language”. But that wasn’t true. All she’d asked was not to work with Modan, an Israeli publisher that funds titles by the country’s Palestinian-bashing military, on her new book, Beautiful World, Where Are You?. She has also noted that a Human Rights Watch report this year said Israel’s segregated society is “comparable to South Africa under apartheid”. As a liberal Israeli Jew, says Hilton, I too am appalled by the state’s actions. Rooney speaks for us all.

Lucky Israel being spared this awful novel, says Rod Liddle in The Spectator. The “mimsy and boring” Rooney openly supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which considers Israel – uniquely – a terrorist and apartheid state. “That BDS is itself deeply anti-semitic is something scarcely worthy of debate.” So why, I wonder, is Rooney limiting her boycott to Israel? Uighur Muslims don’t have the happiest time in China, yet copies of Normal People are churned out there by a state-owned imprint. And what about Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, “a collection of slave states which deny their citizens the vote”?

There’s another reason I think this is silly, says Sam Leith in UnHerd. Rooney believes the state of Israel is a baddie, “not, presumably, its Jewish inhabitants” – and boycotting them serves no purpose. As for her claim that Israel is “an apartheid regime”, depriving liberal fans of “another novel about comfortable young westerners overthinking their love lives” won’t exactly damage the economy or isolate the country. States don’t give a hoot what paperback people are privately thumbing through at bedtime. “It’s hard to imagine it will do a damn thing for the Palestinians.”

Authors and politics don’t mix

Rooney’s true sin is being a novelist, says James Marriott in The Times. In Ireland writers and their political views are taken seriously, but for the English and Americans, the idea of a novelist having political opinions at all – in Rooney’s case, Marxism – is inherently absurd. In today’s fast-moving “moronic inferno of social media”, nobody who’s bashing a book is ever actually reading it. “It’s very hard to be offended by The Satanic Verses,” Salman Rushdie once complained of his much-barbecued masterpiece. “It requires a long period of intense reading. It’s a quarter of a million words.”