The attitude of author Alice Walker toward Israel and Jews has become a key point of contention in the debate about the connection between anti-Semitism and the boycott-Israel movement. Twice in the last year, Walker’s hostility to Israel gained notoriety. Last year, she publicly refused to allow The Color Purple—her most famous work—to be translated into Hebrew as a protest against Israel and Zionism. Then last month, she took her act to New York where the 92nd Street Y hosted her in an event that was bitterly criticized by many Jews. But each time, Walker’s critics—including this writer—accused her of anti-Semitism, the writer’s defenders claimed that such charges were overblown or an attempt to blur the difference between reasonable disapproval of Israeli policies expressed via the BDS movement and Jew hatred.
I’ve written about how the BDS movement is inherently prejudicial, but Walker’s case is one that doesn’t require us to resort to theoretical arguments. Jonathan Kay added some insight to our knowledge of Walker’s belief earlier this month when he pointed out her embrace of a book that put forward bizarre conspiracy theories involving UFOs and Jew hatred. But apparently Walker is not satisfied with applauding other writers’ wacky anti-Semitism. As the Anti-Defamation League writes in a report on her new book The Cushion in the Road, Walker has crossed the line between any notion of legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. She doesn’t merely rationalize Palestinian terror, trash the state of Israel and compare it to Nazi Germany. She also blasts Judaism and traditional Jewish beliefs (for which she blames any alleged misbehavior by individual Israelis or the state itself) and writes of Israelis in terms that are undeniably anti-Semitic.
As the ADL notes:
What is shocking, however, is the extremely vitriolic and hateful rhetoric employed by Walker, the author of The Color Purple and a poet and activist. Her descriptions of Israel and Israelis can largely be described as anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic.
On the very first page of the “On Palestine” section, Walker details her disillusionment with Black churches whose leaders recount Biblical stories about the Israelites’ various triumphs and travails to inspire their congregations.
Walker also shows a blatant lack of respect for ancient Jewish values and beliefs. She disputes the quintessential Jewish precept that the land of Israel is holy, arguing instead that all Earth is holy “but you can’t make any money off of that idea!”
She also, on several occasions, seems to indicate that the purported evils of modern day Israel are a direct result of Jewish values.
Walker’s descriptions of the conflict are so grossly inaccurate and biased that the uninformed reader would almost certainly come away thinking that Israel is committing the greatest atrocity in the history of the world.
Walker is careful to step on just about every possible rhetorical mine, even condoning terrorism against Israeli civilians.
What Walker has proven is that it is not her critics who have confused legitimate criticism of Israel for anti-Semitism. It is she who has taken the Middle East dispute and used it as an excuse to vent her personal hatred for Judaism, a belief that apparently has been influence by her first marriage to a Jewish civil rights lawyer. It is possible to criticize Israeli policies. Israelis do it every day. But Walker’s problem is not about where the borders should be drawn but whether the nation has any right to exist and whether its people and their faith are worthy of respect.
Any movement that treats one nation differently than any other and denies it—as BDS advocates do of Israel—the same right to exist and to self-defense that are not in question elsewhere is advocating prejudice. That’s why BDS, which advocates economic war against Israel and routinely calls for its destruction, is a form of anti-Semitism. But one needn’t resort to such arguments when it comes to Walker.
Alice Walker’s hatred of Jews, Judaism and Israel is so open and so vicious that there is no way even for those who are unsympathetic to Zionism to avoid the conclusion that the author is an anti-Semite. That’s why it is incumbent on those who have embraced her in the past as well as those institutions, like the 92nd Street Y, that have welcomed her as an honored guest and voice of reason to condemn her statements in an unqualified manner and to apologize for their role in promoting her crackpot theories. More to the point, she is an example of exactly why BDS advocates do not deserve to be treated as legitimate voices that deserve a place at the table either in the Jewish community or in public discussions of the Middle East.
Walker should no longer be treated as an honored voice of feminism or the civil rights movement. She has descended into the worst kind of hate speech and deserves the same disdain that we accord other inhabitants of the fever swamps of the far right and far left.