The cultural boycott of Israel: Why Sally Rooney is right
Earlier in October, it was revealed that Irish author, Sally Rooney, refused an offer from the Israeli publisher Modan to publish her latest book.
Many media outlets were awash with misleading headlines wrongly claiming that Rooney was refusing to allow her book to be published in Hebrew.
In a statement published on 12 October, Rooney affirmed her position and expressed her long-standing support for the Palestinian struggle and adherence to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) guidelines.
She is part of a cohort of hundreds of Irish cultural figures who stand with the Palestinian people and pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of Israel.
BDS is a Palestinian-led movement that takes inspiration from the South African anti-apartheid struggle that utilised boycotts to pressure the regime. The academic and cultural boycott call, issued in 2004, asks international artists and cultural figures to refuse complicity with Israeli apartheid by boycotting Israeli institutions unless they recognise the comprehensive rights of the Palestinian people.
This call came after decades of failed international interventions, negotiations, and dialogue projects, and was predicated on the need for “a Palestinian frame of reference outlining guiding principles” on how to deal with Israel.
The demands of the movement are clear: the recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people under international law; the end of the military occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands (including the Syrian Golan Heights) since 1967, recognising the fundamental rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to equality, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees as stipulated by UN Resolution 194.
The BDS Movement is thus completely in line with international law. Moreover, the right to boycott has been enshrined as a legal political tool many times. Importantly, boycotting, in this case, isn’t simply a principled stance, it is a political tactic, emanating from a long history of global south resistance aimed at bringing about action that forces Israel to comply with international law. Crucially, BDS targets complicity, not identity.
The academic and cultural boycott recognises that Israel uses both these areas as a means to carry out and whitewash violations of Palestinian rights.
For example, many of Israel’s academic institutions are directly involved in developing weapons systems and military doctrines that are used by the Israeli army against the Palestinian people.
Some academic institutions are even built in internationally recognised illegal settlements in the West Bank, such as Ariel University. Similarly, Israeli cultural institutions are explicitly used to promote the notion that Israel is a ‘normal’ country.
Indeed, so much so that an official from the Israeli Foreign Ministry once said; "We are seeing culture as a hasbara tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture".
Others are even more directly complicit. Modan, the Israeli publishing company Rooney turned down, boasts on its website about producing and marketing books for the Israeli Ministry of Defence.