damn olives

Israeli soldiers blocking Palestinian farmers and activists from their own land and olive groves during harvest season in the West Bank's Salfit last week. The army used stun grenades and arrested three people. Photo by Matan Golan/Sipa USA

Beautiful World, Where Are You: This Is Not A Conflict. This Is Apartheid

Citing human rights reports that Israel's "racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law," big-deal Irish author Sally Rooney says she won't sell translation rights for her hot new book to an Israeli publisher to honor the BDS boycott call. Cue a savage Jewish smear campaign: It's just like pogroms, morally questionable, an affront to reading and culture, what about Russia/China, "She's an anti-Semite. Fuck her." Others urged standing up to the cynical hysteria. "Be brave, come forward. No one is free until we are all free."

Citing recent rights reports "confirming what Palestinian human rights groups have long been saying...that Israel's system of racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law," wildly popular Irish author Sally Rooney just announced she will honor the BDS boycott movement and decline to sell translation rights for her latest (hot) book to its previous Israeli publisher due to its support for apartheid. In her agent's statement, which cited work by Palestinian groups, Human Rights Watch and Israeli anti-occupation group B'Tselem, Rooney was careful to frame her decision within the institutional boycott guideliness of BDS, which she called "a Palestinian-led, anti-racist and non-violent campaign" modeled on the boycott movement of South Africa. She likewise judiciously noted that, "Of course, many states other than Israel are guilty of grievous human rights abuses." Nonetheless, she said, "I am responding to the call from Palestinian civil society, including all major Palestinian trade unions and writers' unions."

For those who haven't read her - we haven't - Rooney, 30, is a big deal in the publishing world. Hyped as "the voice of a generation," her books about the intimate lives of flawed millennials have been deemed "a certain kind of literary chic...smart but fun." Bookstores opened early for the September release of her third book, Beautiful World, Where Are You; in five days, it became 2021's biggest selling book, topping UK book charts with "jaw-dropping" sales of over 46,000 copies. Her books have now sold more than three million copies with sales of over $15 million, most of which goes to the publisher and retailers. Despite her commercial success - both earlier books are now TV series - Rooney has voiced ambivalence about "just writing entertainment (at) a time of historical crisis...I feel like I could devote myself to far more important things." Still, following a long, anti-colonial tradition of Irish solidarity with Palestine - over 1,300 Irish artists signed Ireland/Palestine Solidarity Campaign's pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of Israel - Rooney joined hundreds of artists in A Letter Against Apartheid in May after Israel's 11-day assault on Gaza. "To frame this as a war between two equal sides is false," reads the letter. "This is not a conflict: this is apartheid."

In this week's statement, Rooney clarified she'd be "proud" to sell translation rights to an Israeli publisher compliant with BDS guidelines; Modan, the huge house that issued her earlier books, boasts it markets books for Israel's Ministry of Defense. Notes one editor, "You can't publish with Modan and respect the boycott. Simple as." Rooney realized "not everyone will agree" with her move, but she "simply feel(s) it would not be right" to work with a company that doesn't "publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the U.N-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people." Despite her painstaking efforts at clarity, she was hit by swift, savage, often hysterical blowblack by pro-Israel media whose shrill defensiveness sounded uncannily like the shame of bad conscience. With "obvious contortions of the usual bad-faith merchants," they turned her principled stand into a snub of Hebrew and, cynically, inevitably, an act of anti-Semitism. The smears ranged from tired what about-isms - Russia, China, U.S., though she addressed that issue - to abstruse laments - boycotts are "the opposite of what art and culture should be" - to rabid, empty charges - "She's an anti-Semite. Fuck her" - to claims her act is "anathema to the artistic essence of literature" and cultural boycotts are "among the most slippery of slopes," in the past leading to "human atrocities that any loving soul should distance itself from," as in, Nazis, and sure this is just like that.

Some critiques were frenzied. Raving Rooney "doesn't understand what books are for," Liel Leibovitz trashed "recreational Marxists" who "believe belles lettres are the prize you get once you pledge allegiance to the right political beliefs" within "a hermetically sealed alternate universe"; hence, Rooney's "virtue-signaling" with her "emotionally stunted characters (failing) to form real and nurturing emotional attachments while hectoring each other with bits from The Communist Manifesto." (Say what?) A "liberal Israeli Jew" sadly argued, "Singling us out for ostracization is both morally questionable and utterly counterproductive," playing into the hands of pols like Netanyahu - "See, they hate us!" - and confirming Israelis' "worst fears of being loathed," echoes of pogroms and blood libels, and besides all Western countries "colonized, enslaved, pillaged, plundered." Finally, dismally,Anshel Pfefferdeclared Rooney's act shows the Israel/Palestine debate is "now a conflict of empty words," zombie gestures, rhetorical inflation. "There is no solution," he sniffs. "Just hollow words." No, advocates say, there is also truth, principle, moral law; Rooney, "a model for Palestinian allyship, gave us a lesson in what principled solidarity looks like." BDS agreed, decrying the silencing of Palestinian support by basely conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism when millions around the world "see in Palestinians a microcosm of their own oppression and hopes." "We ask you to be brave. We ask you to come forward," they wrote. "No one is free until we are all free."

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