Sally Rooney and BDS

Submitted by AWL on 27 October, 2021 - 5:11 Author: Chris Reynolds
Sally Rooney

On 24 October, the Israeli Land Authority posted tenders for 1,300 new Jewish-settlement houses to be built in the Palestinian West Bank. This is the first big new settlement plan under the current coalition government. The housing minister declared that he also planned to double the settler population in the Jordan Valley, on the side of the West Bank furthest from Israel. Other building projects are being mooted which would cut off the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa and block Palestinian traffic between north and south of the West Bank.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz has designated six longstanding Palestinian NGOs as “terrorist” groups on grounds that they have some links with the ex-Maoist PFLP.

Meretz and the Israeli Labor Party, the left-ish parts of the coalition, have been reduced to spluttering complaint.

Those new moves may seem to vindicate novelist Sally Rooney’s announcement on 12 October that she would not have her latest novel translated into Hebrew and had “chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house” out of a wish to support “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) against Israel.

In truth, as Etan Nechin wrote in the liberal daily Haaretz: “BDS has a strong hold on Palestinian solidarity campaigns on Western campuses and elite cultural institutions. It tries to shame those who don’t align with its murky guidelines, leading even radical thinkers like Norman Finkelstein to disavow them as a ‘cult’. But beyond producing momentary headlines, BDS has been a failure. Since its inception, it has done nothing to damage Israel’s GDP or more narrowly, the economic power of the settlement movement. In its 16 years of existence, it has only managed to hurt academics and independent cultural institutions already marginalised by mainstream Israeli society and government for their dissenting position against the occupation”.

The “big” boycott of Israel, from 1948 by the surrounding Arab states, won nothing for Palestinian rights and is now decayed: the current “small” boycott, expelling Israelis from film festivals, academic editorial boards, LGBT+ parades, novel readerships, and so on, is unlikely to.

Rather than boycott, we can better counter the Bennett government’s direction and help progress by links with groups in Israel and the Palestinian territories like Standing Together fighting for democracy and recognition of the rights of both peoples - immediately, of the Palestinians’ denied right to self-determination.

Nechin denies Rooney’s boycott is antisemitic. Doubtless there is little hurt to Jews from Hebrew-monoglots being unable for now to read a particular novel, and Rooney has no personal hostility to Jews or to Hebrew-monoglots.

Nevertheless, a tactic which especially hits, as Nechin says, “academics and independent cultural institutions [with a] dissenting position against the occupation”, who are vulnerable because they desire international links with liberal or leftish milieus, and hits them just because they are Israeli-Jewish, could not but become antisemitic if it gathered real momentum.

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