Sally Rooney is often feted as the ‘great millennial novelist’.
In keeping with her generation’s abiding concerns, her three novels are riddled with a strange anxiety, steeped in concerns about social class, driven by character rather than plot … and full of sex.
At just 30, the Dublin-born wunderkind has generated millions in book sales – given a large boost thanks to a dreamlike BBC adaptation of her second book, Normal People, starring Irish heart-throb Paul Mescal.
Yet despite her wealth, she retains a strongly progressive political conscience.
And it is her avowed Left-wing beliefs that have got Rooney into hot water this week – as it emerged that she has refused to allow her third and latest chart-topping book, the ponderously titled Beautiful World, Where Are You, to be translated in Hebrew by the same Israeli firm that loyally published her previous two books.
At just 30, Sally Rooney has generated millions in book sales – given a large boost thanks to a dreamlike BBC adaptation of her second book, Normal People
Why? Simply because that firm is Israeli – and does not subscribe to Rooney’s ugly and one-sided view of that Middle Eastern democracy.
In somewhat pompous and verbose terms, Rooney tells the world: ‘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.’
Many on the hard Left in Britain have applauded her supposedly noble stance: they approve entirely of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that Rooney espouses, which seeks to damage Israel economically.
A storm in a literary teacup? Perhaps. Yet it is also highly revealing of the mindset of a particular kind of hard-Left thinker.
Rooney noisily complains about what she calls apartheid in the Middle East.
Yet she also boasts of her Marxist beliefs – when tens of millions of people have been slaughtered in the name of that vile and discredited ideology, and which continues to impoverish countless luckless and unfree people around the world.
Perhaps in keeping with her love of Marxism, Rooney’s books have been published in Mandarin (by the Shanghai Translation Publishing House).
It emerged that she has refused to allow her third book Beautiful World, Where Are You, to be translated in Hebrew
Yet communist China stands accused of countless human rights abuses, not least allegations of horrendous and ongoing genocide against its Uighur Muslim population.
Millions of this unfortunate minority have been imprisoned without trial in monstrous ‘re-education’ camps.
Those who have escaped have told of compulsory sterilisations, rape and murder, while such nightmarish atrocities as organ harvesting from living prisoners – for sale to wealthy Saudi Arabians – have also been reported.
Needless to say, whatever the grim nature of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, nothing of this kind, thank God, is taking place on the West Bank.
Yet Rooney does not single out Beijing for attack: instead, she seems perfectly happy to take the money of her Chinese readership.
Similarly, she has, it seems, happily allowed her books to be translated into Russian and published in that undemocratic country which labours under its murderous and tyrannical president-for-life Vladimir Putin. Presumably she has earned a nice royalty cheque or two in consequence.
Perhaps anticipating the raised eyebrows her inconsistent stance inevitably invokes, Rooney has acknowledged that several countries ‘are guilty of grievous human rights abuses’.
Quite right – so why make a special case of Israel?
Rooney has said that she would be ‘pleased and proud’ to sell the Hebrew translation rights to the novel, if she could ‘find a way’ that is ‘compliant’ with the BDS guidelines.
In preventing – at least for now – Hebrew speakers from reading her books and refusing ‘for the moment … to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house’, Rooney risks implicitly linking all Hebrew speakers (almost all Jews, of course) to the actions of Israel.
The BBC adaptation of the writer’s second book, Normal People, stars Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones
The Irish drama follows the relationship between the characters Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron
The Israeli population includes plenty of Hebrew-speaking Jews who are staunchly opposed to their government’s actions and who stand firmly behind the Palestinian people. Tough luck for them. And this gets to the heart of the issue.
Rooney is entitled to her political beliefs, however simplistic and ill thought through they might be.
But she is also a novelist, a highly regarded one at that. And all novelists – indeed all artists – should properly believe in free speech, the free exchange of ideas and art for art’s sake.
As a committed Left-winger, she might also espouse some of the internationalist instincts that motivate Left-wing parties around the world. By allowing Hebrew speakers to read her books, she might in time convert some to her passionate cause.
Plenty of artists are clever enough to understand this.
One is the great Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave: he has called the BDS boycott ‘cowardly and shameful’ – while also making it clear that he doesn’t support everything Israel does and that he hopes fervently for a resolution to the plight of the Palestinian people.
Yet all too often the Left is incapable of understanding this – as the wretched regime of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party showed us all. (I will never forget the time a Left-wing BBC journalist chillingly told me to my face that he thought that Israel, a state created out of the worst genocide in the history of our species, ‘had no right to exist’.)
The same is true in Rooney’s native Ireland, where Leftists and nationalists have long-standing links with Palestinian activism, seeing Ireland and Palestine as both being involved in a struggle against ‘colonialism’.
If Rooney really wanted to address the serious injustices of the world, she might instead be campaigning on Communist North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe or plenty of others … and so aim for a shred of consistency.
Instead, she does a terrible disservice not only to Hebrew speakers around the world – but to all of us who believe that art should be widely shared.