Praise and Defense of Sally Rooney | Arts and culture

When asked what they should do with their lives, radical American historian Howard Zinn advised his students: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.

Zinn, of course, has spent an honorable life putting his warning into practice. He knew that injustice had to be fought; that to stand still or silent meant to accept the often profaning direction taken by the turbulent train of humanity. Not to resist is a complicity.

Zinn also knew the poignant nature of small acts; this resistance does not have to be grandiose to be powerful. When one small act of resistance combines with another, then another and another, this people-powered chain reaction can and does lead to an epoch change.

Zinn and her wise and unwavering advice immediately came to mind when I read acclaimed Irish writer Sally Rooney’s decision not to allow an Israeli publisher to translate her latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You. , in Hebrew, citing his support for the Palestinians “in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality”.

“I just don’t think it would be fair for me under the current circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the rights of the Palestinian people stipulated by the ‘Un,’ Rooney wrote.

As Rooney undoubtedly knows, the “present circumstances” endured by imprisoned Palestinians – day in and day out – are as intolerable as they constitute a blatant affront to decency and humanity.

These grim “present circumstances” are described in distressing detail in reports released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which conclude that Israel has long been guilty of committing the crime. apartheid – not like a practical rhetoric club. , but as an established question of international law.

In announcing his significant refusal to stand still or silent in the face of this demonstrable fact, Rooney made explicit reference to HRW’s compelling findings. She also reiterated her support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which – through small and large acts of resistance – works to end Israel’s documented oppression of the Palestinians and pressure Israel to do so. finally complies with international law.

For her part, Zinn was spied on, lost her teaching job and was jailed for following the simple principle that governed her work and actions: “You cannot be neutral on a moving train. “

Zinn is not disheartened by his many indignant enemies who have tried unsuccessfully to smear his name and silence him inside and outside his beloved class.

Rooney’s appreciation of the obligation to reject neutrality when the circumstances so require has prompted his detractors to also attempt to question or denigrate his motives, sully his reputation and intimidate him to the point of silence.

I suspect that Rooney expected the locusts to swoop down on her in all their incoherent fury, and that, like Zinn, she will continue to insist that indeed, you can’t be neutral on a train. moving.

Still, it is, I believe, useful to address what Rooney’s critics had to say in response – if only to expose how pedestrian and meaningless their rebuttals have been.

First of all, the ever-deferential BBC cited an anonymous “senior Israeli minister” as saying that “such boycotts are a form of anti-Semitism”.

The identity of the “top Israeli minister” is irrelevant. By now it should be clear that, from the corrosive and parochial perspective of any Israeli government – and its apologists abroad – any act committed by anyone at any time who promotes or defends the Palestinian cause constitutes, de facto, anti-Semitism.

In this context, the serious charge of anti-Semitism loses its purpose and potency when reduced to predictable defamation repeated, over and over again, like brutal mockery, but ultimately meaningless.

Anyway, given the wacky logic of the “Prime Minister of Israel,” I guess Rooney was not an anti-Semite when she allowed her earlier works to be translated into Hebrew. Now it is, by virtue of a unique and deliberate expression of solidarity with the Palestinians.

Apparently, the metamorphosis of a popular successful author into an unrepentant anti-Semite can occur suddenly and at the vacant whim of a “top Israeli minister.”

I know this is unlikely to give this “senior Israeli minister” and his cabinet colleagues a break, but a journalist writing in The Independent felt compelled to assure readers that: “There isn’t the slightest evidence that Rooney is such a thing.”

I’m sure Ms. Rooney is not only grateful to read that she is not anti-Semitic, but relieved.

At the right time, the equally deferential New York Times cited a literary agent calling Rooney’s decision “counterproductive”. (Unsurprisingly, no one has been cited to applaud Rooney’s righteous position.) This soft reasoning, as it stands, has been echoed to a fuller extent by a novelist and translator on the NBC News website.

In his polish missive, the “award-winning novelist,” translator and self-proclaimed “liberal Israeli Jew,” hailed Rooney as a writer “of immense talent and insight.”

Sadly, Rooney’s “immense talent and insight” did not spare her from his condescending rod.

While admitting that the “State of Israel” was “wrong” not only in “occupying the Palestinian territories”, but “in its treatment of the Palestinians inside Israel and in its territories” and “for having led the Jewish population to behave like colonizers ”,“ celibate [Israelis] ostracism is both morally questionable and totally counterproductive, ”the novelist wrote.

Rather, Rooney should use his “voice” and “power” to “open doors” to a possible rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians.

No sir. The burden – moral, ethical or historical – of belatedly acknowledging, let alone addressing, the brutal colonization and blatant treatment of Palestinians by an occupying army lies with Israel and the Israelis, not an Irish novelist.

The requirements for Israel and the Israelis to do so are detailed in the HRW report. Maybe the literary agents and award-winning novelists who lecture and berate Rooney in The New York Times or on NBC News should read it.

Sadly, the State of Israel immediately accused HRW of producing a “propaganda pamphlet” consistent with its long-standing “anti-Israel agenda”.

Not very constructive.

And what is this magical and constructive approach that Rooney and the BDS movement should take to convince hard-line demagogues like Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to end the occupation of Palestine and the litany of “evil” committed by “l ‘State of Israel’ to enforce it? ?

While the literary agent offered constructive advice, the Times unfortunately chose not to include it. As for the award-winning novelist, he believes “quiet diplomacy” and “soft coercion” will do the elusive deal.

I guess “quiet diplomacy” and “soft coercion” shouldn’t include Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian children as they brave military checkpoints on their way to school or beat up Palestinian farmers. and destroy their olive trees during the harvest season.

Then a sorry group of aspiring Oscar Wildes wrote what their delinquent editors took to be caustic and contrary columns that put Rooney in his unimportant place hoping the editors would agree not to sell his “bonkbusters” in Grande. -Brittany.

These painted-by-number epistles were so biting and original that almost textual facsimiles of this fellowship-boy-like drivel masquerading as a pithy commentary appeared, almost simultaneously, in London’s “large sheets”, The Telegraph and The Spectator.

How annoying it must be to know that an accomplished 30-year-old fiction writer already occupies an established and vaunted place in world literature, as these redundant Fleet Street hacks grapple with a well-deserved, evaporating obscurity. quickly. (Thankfully, Beautiful World’s vigorous sales, Where Are You, once again asserts it.)

What is instructive about all the mundane diatribes aimed at Rooney is the absence of any mention or outrage at the outrages the Palestinians must have suffered – yesterday, today or tomorrow.

For too many people, this suffering is invisible. Rooney’s small but admirable gesture made it visible. That so-called journalists believe that his decision justifies their censorship and not the cruelty and ugliness that precipitated it, is a sad reflection of the depth and disfigurement of their cynicism and blindness.

Hope Rooney isn’t paying attention to the dreck. I hope she remembers and is proud of her homeland’s unique affinity and her dedication to defending the humanity of the Palestinians.

The fact that Ms. Rooney has confirmed that she is a friend, advocate, ally of the Palestinians and their just plight is testament to an artist’s imperative to recognize the suffering of others.

Not that it was necessary, but, I’m sure, Howard Zinn would have approved.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


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