Another Victory for BDS: Doug Henwood Refuses To Sell Translation Rights

My friend Doug Henwood has refused to sell the translation rights of his book on Hillary Clinton, My Turn, to an Israeli publisher. Because of BDS. Good for him. I believe Doug’s going to be writing something more about this decision in the coming days, so let me focus instead on this comment from the Israeli publisher:

Boycotts, silencing people, or refusing to acknowledge different opinions go against the very nature of the publishing world. Freedom of expression trumps everything….In the publishing field, the freedom of speech is the most appreciated value. In this boycott, the author is acting with an hypocritical attitude. He himself is expressing views in the free world, but preventing others from sharing them.

Note the irony.

Had Doug turned down the publisher’s offer simply because he didn’t like the financial terms—royalties too low, etc.—that would have been fine. But turning down the offer in order to make a political statement is an abridgment of free speech.

Meanwhile, as I was reading Lamentations 5 tonight—

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;

Behold, and see our disgrace!

Our heritage has passed to aliens,

Our homes to strangers,

We must pay to drink our own water.

—I recalled this:

But the Palestinians say they are prevented from using their own water resources by a belligerent military power, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to buy water from their occupiers at inflated prices.

In other news, Adam Sandler has come out against BDS. Somehow, we soldier on without him.


  1. Utpal December 17, 2015 at 2:09 am | #

    “[T]he Palestinians say …”

  2. Wes Bishop December 17, 2015 at 3:12 am | #

    Thank you for sharing, Corey. That is very ironic. Once again “free speech” is deployed against someone for taking a stance on a political issue.

  3. Stephen Zielinski December 17, 2015 at 7:57 am | #

    Whose free speech rights is Henwood violating when he refuses a publishing contract with an Israeli publisher? His own? The publisher’s?

  4. Roquentin December 17, 2015 at 10:03 am | #

    Regardless of how you feel about BDS, where he chooses to translate and publish his work is completely within his rights. I usually find free speech conversations to be a thin veneer for other issues, but if I were going to weigh in on this that’s the stance I’d take. It’s not as if he should be forced to do so.

    I’m reluctant to say this because it includes too much generalization based on ethnicity, but just the same, here it goes. I hardly knew any Jews before I moved to NYC. I could count the number of Jewish kids I went to school with on one hand, and could almost have made it through college without surpassing that. Anyhow, what surprised me and still does to a certain extent, was how a group of people who were generally quite liberal and progressive did such a 180 degree turn when the subject of Israel came up. It was as if all of that went straight out the window. I understood quickly that it was a subject to be avoided whenever possible. Even writing about it now makes me uneasy. It startled me how quickly the change came on.

    On a side note, I worked for a company that did the post-production for the Howard Stern show. I am well acquainted with his views, attitudes, and opinions.

  5. xenon2 December 17, 2015 at 7:10 pm | #

    just followed @DougHenwood

  6. Jara Handala December 18, 2015 at 1:02 am | #

    Just a few points, as I try to better understand all this. It means drawing attention to the talk of the word ‘Israel’ & its cognates. In a nutshell, is the problem with Israel (whatever that means), the Israeli government, Israeli businesses & other organisations, Israeli businesses & organisations with a certain activity, composition, or political view?; should Israeli organisations (even when wholly populated by either non-Jewish Israelis or pro-BDS Israelis) be boycotted?

    1) Corey’s post says “My friend Doug Henwood has refused to sell the translation rights of his book on Hillary Clinton, My Turn, to an Israeli publisher. Because of BDS.”

    Doug’s website ( has nothing yet, but W16Dec he made the only direct tweet on the matter; this is it in full: “I turned down an offer of Israeli rights to My Turn in honor of the cultural boycott”, & then linked to the web article that Corey does.

    So “Israeli rights”, publishing rights (not exclusive new-book & e-book sales rights) in a territory, not for a particular language, a language used either there or throughout the world. This is different from the headline of the mentioned web article: “BDS Author Refuses to Translate His Hillary Clinton Biography into Hebrew”. Now someone might be conceptually sloppy here, or we might be getting an example of the common unthinking slippage of collapsing ‘Israel’ into an idea of Jewish culture, of Israelis being Jews (if one accepts the idea of fictive kin, ethnicity, ignoring the 25% who aren’t Jews), of Israel having one language (Hebrew).

    2) Doug says he made his decision “[b]ecause of BDS”. Corey helpfully links to the BDS website, which has its founding statement, its “Call”, of 9 July 2005. It identifies its target as “Israel”: a territory of a state. It doesn’t describe its target in terms of class, ethnicity, religion, language, particular organisation (e.g. the state), or anything else, such as attitude to the Israeli state & its behaviour. So the target is *all* those living in a territory & *all* organisations either operating in & from that territory or making sales to that territory.

    Does any Palestinian organisation of note, from anywhere in the world, desist from this call? Not that I know of. The list of signatories even includes Palestinian organisations from within Israel’s 1949 borders; these borders are the ones recognised in international law, although not by Israeli law which has identified none for the state.

    One problem of the call is that it doesn’t say what counts as Israeli territory – land owned by aspiring Jewish-Israeli supremacists before the illegal & revolutionary unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) of 14 May 1948?, the armistice line of 1949?, the expansion as of 10 June 1967? Where’s the boycott & divestment to be?

    The call identifies three necessary & conjoint sufficient conditions that would allow the BDS campaign to stop, including this: “[e]nding its [“Israel”‘s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”. Given that the call also speaks of the need for “Israel” to agree to “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties”, doesn’t this mean giving up title & possession of all bar the pre-UDI land owned by wannabe Jewish-Israeli supremacists? This, remember, is no more than 8% of British-mandated Palestine.

    If Doug wants to observe the BDS boycott call he needs to ensure that his book, in any language, is not sold in Israel – or that any rights (translation, publishing, sales, etc.) are sold to a business involved in any way with Israel (whichever borders we take it to have). However, it means the book can be translated into Hebrew, Yiddish even, and also into Arabic. Just not sold in Israel. Not even by a struggling Palestinian-Israeli, East Jerusalem, Gaza, or West Bank publisher or bookshop.

    3) The last point, when generalised, draws attention to the fact that the BDS call – what seems to be the unanimous view of Palestinian civil society – requires the target of the boycott to even include its supporters within Israel (whichever borders we take it to have), ditto the supporters of applying international law, ditto the supporters of Palestinian national rights independent of law. This is ludicrous, isn’t it? Has there really been no attempt to exclude supporters from the target of the boycott?

    • Stephen Zielinski December 18, 2015 at 7:27 am | #

      “…Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
      Signifying nothing.”

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