Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The Color of Anti-Semitism, Part Two

Mainstream Jewish groups are more or less united in their opposition to those who advocate the boycott of Israel. But the question of how to express that opposition is one that continues to divide them. While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them. Another example of this bizarre disconnect comes to our attention from Lori Lowenthal Marcus who writes today in the Jewish Press that New York City’s 92nd Street Y will be hosting writer Alice Walker tomorrow night in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.

Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Color Purple. But for those who follow the anti-Israel activities that are festering in the fever swamps of the American left, Walker is also known as an enthusiastic BDS backer. As I wrote here last year, Walker is so fervent in her antipathy for the Jewish state that she refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew. Walker said she took the action because of her sympathy for the Palestinians. But in taking this step, she wasn’t merely protesting against some Israeli policies. Instead, she was trying to treat Jews and Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That was as rank an act of anti-Semitism as can be imagined, but as Marcus points out, a few months later she actually signed a letter with other leftist artists seeking to bar the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. To add to that, she publicly called on singer Alicia Keys to cancel her scheduled July concert in Israel and urged her to visit the Hamas-ruled terrorist state in Gaza instead. 

Walker has made her feelings about the rights of Jews and her desire to discriminate against them quite clear. The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?

The defenders of Walker and the Y will, no doubt, continue to try to differentiate between BDS and traditional Jew-hatred. But it bears repeating that anyone who advocates treating one people and one nation differently than others and denying them the same right to exist or self-defense that no one denies anyone else is committing an act of prejudice. The term of art for such acts when committed against Jews is anti-Semitism. To argue that anyone who wishes to prohibit Israelis from reading their work in their own language or the right to perform in public is not an anti-Semite renders the term devoid of any meaning. Walker’s actions are living, breathing illustration that the line between her open anti-Zionism and more traditional forms of Jew-hatred has been erased.

The Y, which appeals to New York’s liberal Jewish elites as well as more broad-based audiences that enjoy their lectures and concerts, is free to host anyone it wants. But by inviting Walker to grace their auditorium and by lauding her on their website as “a muse for our times; a writer with an extraordinary ability to both touch and propel the reader to action,” what are they saying? Unless the Y is hoping Walker will move her listeners to such anger at her outrageous attacks on Israel, what “action” are they talking about?

But by inviting Walker, whose opinions and actions about Israel are not exactly a secret, the Y is signaling that it and its members do not consider advocacy for the anti-Israel BDS movement to be a disqualifying factor when it comes to the people they invite to their hall. Those donors and members of the Y who have not yet lost their sense of outrage or their connection to the rest of the Jewish people need to make it clear to the group that such actions are not acceptable. Those who support or subsidize an institution that sees such a person as worthy of this honor are, whether they like it or not, complicit in the war against Israel.