Sally Rooney Rejects Hebrew Translation, Debate Ensues

Irish novelist Sally Rooney sparked controversy earlier this week over her explanation of why she recently refused to sell the Hebrew translation rights of her latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You.

In late September, Israeli publication mako (link is in Hebrew) reported that Rooney would not allow the novel to be published in Hebrew. Rooney expanded upon her decision on Oct. 12, specifying that while she’s open to having the novel translated into Hebrew, she isn’t comfortable with having the novel translated by an Israel-based publishing house. Rooney is, however, open to having a Hebrew translation produced by a non-Israeli press — she claims her decision is solely rooted in her adherence to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which encourages its proponents to avoid doing business with Israel-based companies.


“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. In the meantime I would like to express once again my solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” Rooney said in a statement to The Guardian.

The largest publishing company in Israel, Modan Publishing House, had previously translated two of Rooney’s novels, and had made an offer on the Hebrew translation rights for Beautiful World, Where Are You, but Rooney opted to turn this offer down.

The BDS movement has its roots in Palestinian activism and is modeled after similar movements targeted at South Africa during its Apartheid years. It has been the subject of scrutiny by many Zionists who believe the movement is anti-Semitic and reminiscent of the treatment of Jews prior to Jewish emancipation in Europe. Proponents of the movement, however, believe it places economic and political pressure on the state of Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian territory.

Skeptics of Rooney’s decision have argued that refusing a Hebrew translation specifically doesn’t make much sense — after all, she hasn’t refused to translate her novels into other languages spoken in countries with corrupt governments. However, it’s important to note that Rooney’s problem is not with the Hebrew language itself, but rather, the ethical dilemma she sees in actively contributing to the Israeli economy.

“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,” Rooney said in her statement, echoing some of the core tenets of the BDS movement.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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