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Sally Rooney Deserves An Apology

The author's courageous decision to support the BDS movement was met with vile, gross, and honestly weird distortions of the truth.

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Over the past 24 hours, author Sally Rooney has been compared to the Nazis and the KKK, accused of harboring distinctly Irish prejudices against Jews, and generally seen her name dragged through the mud—all based on lies about her decision to respect the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, a distinction she made explicitly clear in a statement this morning. Now that the dust has settled, it’s clear that Rooney is owed an abject apology from the people who tried to smear her.

It all started when the Forward published a wildly misleading op-ed on Monday by Gitit Levy-Paz claiming that Rooney was refusing to allow her latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, to be published in Hebrew. It was rather astonishing that the outlet framed things in this way, given that the article itself showed that the framing was nonsense. As Levy-Paz wrote (emphasis mine):

Haaretz reported that when Modan contacted Rooney’s agent, Tracy Bohan of the Wylie Agency, about another translation deal, Bohan shared that Rooney supports a cultural boycott of Israel and would not allow a Hebrew language translation of her latest novel to go forward with Modan.

It is clear, reading this paragraph, that Rooney was refusing to work with a specific Israeli publisher—one that, among other things, contracts with the Israeli government—in solidarity with the BDS movement, not that she was pursuing a sweeping boycott of Hebrew itself. But Levy-Paz did not allow this fact to deter her from blatantly comparing Rooney to…well, you guessed it:

 The deployment of boycotts has in the past led to human atrocities that any loving soul would distance itself from. It is not always remembered, but among the first steps taken by the Nazi regime in Germany was the initiation of a boycott of Jewish businesses.

Good job, everyone involved. This overt distortion did its job. The internet erupted. Here are just a few representative examples.

Oh yeah, she’s a member of the KKK too! People also took the time to indulge in old-fashioned anti-Irish bigotry:

Gross, but also so weird? Anyway, Rooney helpfully clarified things with a statement this morning, in which she emphasized that she is honoring the cultural boycott of Israel, not attempting to burn all Hebrew books in a fiery pit, and that she would be happy to have her book translated into Hebrew if it did not contravene BDS. She also described Israel as carrying out apartheid policies against Palestinians:

What are we to make of this? First, bravo to Sally Rooney. Even though she now has a level of fame and power that few ever reach in the literary world, she is still doing a difficult, principled, and courageous thing. By standing with the Palestinian people, risking a titanic backlash, and being willing to call Israeli apartheid by its name, she is on the right side of history. I have enjoyed Rooney’s work in the past, but now I genuinely have no choice but to stan.

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Rooney’s experience, though, shows why so many might blanch at this kind of overt confrontation with the power of the pro-Israel machine. Her decisions were twisted beyond belief, and she was traduced as little more than a Nazi. Above all, she fell victim to the most tired, but potent, smear of all: that to protest Israel—even in the wake of yet another horrendous Israeli assault on Palestine—is to protest all Jews. Zionism may frequently demand that the two are equated, but that does not mean it is true, and to insist that there is no alternative way to think about the place of Jews in the world is both offensive and dangerous.

Rooney very obviously deserves contrition from her attackers. But rather than admit that they participated in a smear campaign, most of her critics appear to be moving the goalposts:

This kind of reaction makes it clear that there is nothing Rooney could do to satisfy her attackers, other than surrender. Good for her for refusing to do so.