Alice Walker’s Shame
tags: Israel,antisemitism,alice walker
Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s .
I know that as a Zionist I am supposed to be a card-carrying member of the III – the Israel Indignation Industry. As such, I am supposed to condemn the New York Times for publicizing Alice Walker’s endorsement of David Icke’s anti-Semitic tract. I’m also supposed to excoriate HNN for publishing Robert Cohen’s “no, really, some of her best friends are Jewish” defense of Walker. I will do no such thing. I salute HNN for allowing Cohen to embarrass himself with such a superficial, anachronistic, single-anecdote-driven, self-promoting yet ultimately self-condemning defense of the indefensible. I thank Alice Walker for her honesty, which exposed the anti-Semitism festering among some on the far left. And I appreciate the New York Times’s neutrality on this moral issue, for demonstrating the double-standard which tolerates modern anti-Semitism. The Times’s moral laziness – would they be so passive regarding a racist tract – challenges us to see whether we are willing to condemn someone for rank Jew-hatred even if she is an extremely talented person of color, and even if she tries masking it behind pro-Palestinian human rights talk.
For those who missed it, the facts. The New York Times Book Review asked the legendary novelist Alice Walker what she was reading. On her bookshelf is “and the truth shall set you free” what David Icke calls his “stunning expose of the hidden agenda behind global affairs.” Endorsing the book, Walker wrote, “In Icke's books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about. A curious person's dream come true.”
Curious indeed. Icke writes wacky connect-the-dots history, wherein random events line up to advance the interests of “those at the higher levels of the Elite-Illuminati-Brotherhood” who “are, I believe, vehicles for the manipulation of the physical world by the Prison Warders of the Fourth Dimension.” Icke’s world is a bing-bong world “of the Big Plan,” of “the cult of the all-seeing eye” – the Masons – and their “Pyramid of Deceit.” Icke – and, judging from her fawning comments about his work on her website, Walker too – want us“to move away from conspiracy theory and see that it is conspiracy fact” – regarding “lies” about Auschwitz, the Holocaust, plane crashes, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, Israel’s creation, life itself.
If you think I’m exaggerating: how are these for thesis statements in a book one of America’s beloved cultural icons just endorsed: “It is hard to believe at first, but you don't have to search too far to realise that almost every major negative event of global significance has been part of the same long-term plan by the All-Seeing Eye cult to take over the planet via a centralised world government, central bank, currency, and army. And it is being done by programming the human mind.” And elsewhere we learn: “This system I am describing is the means through which the extraterrestrial Prison Warders and the Luciferic Consciousness on the non-physical frequencies around this planet, project their control into the physical world as the Global Elite/Illuminati/ Brotherhood network. Divide and rule, control of the flow of information, secret manipulation, and conflict. Over the last three hundred thousand years or so, all these methods of control by the Prison Warders can be seen in the Elite network on Earth.”
Once attacked for championing a bizarre book that blames the Mossad, the ADL, the Rothschilds, and Henry Kissinger for spawning much of the world’s evils, that implies Jews’ bring anti-Semitism on themselves –“they expect it, they create it” – Walker doubled down. She could have said, I don’t believe everything I read. Instead, she gushed. “I find Icke’s work to be very important to humanity’s conversation, especially at this time,” she wrote. “I do not believe he is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. I do believe he is brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask, and to speak his own understanding of the truth wherever it might lead.”
We all read all kinds of books that don’t reflect on us. But you only endorse books you endorse.
Inevitably, pathetically, Walker couldn’t resist bolstering her enthusiastic approval of this nonsense with her women-of-color credentials. “Many attempts have been made to censor and silence him,” she wrote. “As a woman, and a person of color, as a writer who has been criticized and banned myself, I support his right to share his own thoughts.” Can someone explain how the genuine oppression she has suffered and transformed into profound art is somehow transferrable to Icke and his superficial, rehashed, conspiratorial idiocy?
Moreover, this man has sold over 200,000 copies of his books according to Vox. Walker’s work is published and quoted widely – although not translated into Hebrew because she violated her own commitment to open dialogue by refusing to have the Color Purple published in Israel. I don’t think the issue here is censoring or silencing.
The issue, instead is PCB: politically correct bigotry. By leveraging her celebrity in theNew York Times, Alice Walker has mainstreamed and validated anti-Semitism, the oldest hatred, the most plastic hatred – which the left and the right, religious and secular, repeatedly form-fit and recycle. Just when the genuine insight – not the political manipulation – behind “intersectionality” should have taught us how universally demeaning bigotry is, and there should be zero-tolerance for all prejudice, including Jew-hatred, Walker deploys her literary credibility to hive off anti-Semitism from the litany of other illegitimate hatreds.
How is it “brave” – Walker’s word – for Icke to write, “As Hitler treated those Jews cast adrift by their own hierarchy, so does Israel treat Palestinians today”? The Nazification of Israel has become a tic of the hard left. It is truly anti-Semitic in its exaggerations – the Palestinian population has grown over the last fifty years – and is simply perverse in treating Jews like their killers.
How is it – Walker’s phrase – “very important to humanity’s conversation” to write about “the Jew’s hooked nose,” and again blur victim and victimizer by claiming “the racism of extreme Jews and the racism of Adolf Hitler are both based on a colossal myth.” And how, “especially at this time” – what, the Age of Trump, after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre? – does piling more hatred contribute to “humanity’s conversation?”
The mystery is solved on page 126. There, Icke runs through the anti-Semite’s favorite Talmudic quotations, wrenched out of context, to categorize the Jews as “incredibly racist, quite stunningly so.” Icke’s riff echoes Alice Walker’s reprehensible 2017 poem “To Study the Talmud.” In that rant– still displayed proudly on her website – she applies an equally superficial approach, collecting misleading quotations, for even more nefarious ends. Calling Israeli “rule” over Palestinians “demonic/To the core,” she wonders “where to look/For the inspiration/For so much evil?” That question takes her from a legitimate, if overheated, political critique into the essence of prejudice – essentializing and otherizing the Jews as a people, and Judaism as a civilization.
Joining a long line of anti-Semites, Alice Walker finds “that part/of the puzzle that is missing,” the “root” of Israeli evil, by studying “The Talmud – as its poison belatedly winds its way/Into our collective consciousness.”
Of course, she, and Icke insist they are not anti-Semitic. Of course, she insists, the charge of anti-Semitism is the price she pays for supporting the Palestinians. Her poem actually suggests the opposite: her support for the Palestinians has made her increasingly anti-Semitic, not merely anti-Zionist.
Unlike most people, who simply condemn Icke on the basic of a quotation here and there, I actually waded through his tract – sacrificing hours of my life I wish I could recover. Let’s be clear, the book is not just anti-Semitic, it’s anti-American, anti-intellectual – and quite insulting to readers, assuming we’re all dupes and will buy any assertion. The fact that someone as serious as Walker endorses something as silly as Icke’s book outs her, frankly, as a kook – and a misanthropic one at that.
In an age when so many people are so sensitive to the damage a President can cause by failing to condemn evil, let’s acknowledge how much damage such an influential intellectual can do by fomenting evil. And in a world of zero tolerance toward sexism, racism, homophobia, and so many other bigotries, isn’t there something disturbing to find a passionate voice for tolerance so stunningly intolerant of the Jews?
And, in that context, to have a professor of history, such as Robert Cohen, not engage any of these issues, not do the basic research, but instead write a superficial endorsement of Walker is stunning. His argument, that Walker is not anti-Semitic in 2018 because fifty-five years ago in 1963, she “took a courageous stand on behalf” of Howard Zinn a “Jewish teacher” who stood up against racism is absurd – and ahistorical. True, this argument allowed Cohen to work in a self-promotional plug for a book he wrote about that era. But although Walker’s literary virtues – starting with her craftsmanship – clearly did not transfer to Icke, despite her adoration, Professor Cohen’s enabling of Walker’s wickedness is contagious: he is diminished by excusing her hatred away. Historians specialize in tracing how people often change over half-a-century. His argument is like excusing a sexual harasser today because he was nice to his girlfriend in the Sixties. It also fails to respect the seriousness of the charge or the many dimensions of Walker’s and Icke’s historically-based, deeply-rooted, Jew hatred.
The issue is not HNN or even the New York Times. Rather than censoring Walker, or LeBron James, or Louis Farrakhan, we should censure them. Bringing these prejudices to light may in fact be helping. For example, more and more leaders in the Women’s March are refusing to abide the hypocrisy of shutting down any other microaggressions they perceive while tolerating macroaggressions against Jews. Perhaps noticing these controversies on the left, while repudiating the Jew-hatred festering on the right, will help all Progressives become as anti-anti-Semitic as everyone, from right to left should be.
Sadly, Alice Walker, David Icke, and apparently Robert Cohen too, failed to realize that, as one wise writer wrote in 1983, “Every affront to human dignity necessarily affects me as a human being on the planet, because I know every single thing on earth is connected.” That writer, a very different, more morally coherent voice back then, was Alice Walker. Hopefully, theNew York Times Book Review’s passive exposure of her toxic opinions will eliminate at least one source in our world of hypocrisy, of anti-Jewish hysteria, and of inter-group hatred, enhancing human dignity, “especially at this time.”
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