It has been almost a month since the news broke about Alice Walker’s cultural boycott of Israel; where she is prohibiting a new Israeli version (so Hebrew translation) of her book The Color Purple. This news only hit my radar about two weeks ago however, when Jewish websites and authors began to respond. I am disappointed by the stance taken by Ms. Walker; and also by many of the responses written by Jews. The myopic views from both sides is just mind-boggling — and it just leaves me in a state of ambivalence on what it really means to be “progressive”.
Before this incidence, I never gave too much thought to Alice Walker. Of course I’ve seen the movie The Color Purple; which was a demonstration of Steven Speilberg’s genius just as much as hers (to be fair). In later years, I also read the novel; which has a different tone than the movie in that it focuses more on female empowerment, lesbianism, and self-esteem issues. Other than this however, the only other written work I’ve read from Alice Walker was her introduction to the book Dreads — which I thought was well written; but a bit too poetic and flowery for my tastes. Being a Black Jew, I was familiar with her daughter, Rebecca Walker, who wrote Black, White & Jewish — although I had never read the book myself.
My guess is (and I may be making a gross assumption here) that my exposure to Alice Walker is probably similar, if not even a tad bit greater, than that of many American Jews. She’s a celebrated Black intellectual who gets brownie points from liberals (including liberal Jews) because she won the Pulitzer Prize. Jews in particular hold high regard for cultural and academic excellence, and hold fast to the belief that proving yourself intellectually helps to restore you to equal status with White Christian majority. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that. But everyone, Jews included, should be careful not to put anyone on a pedestal and think they are devoid of racism against you because they’ve been deemed an intellectual.
Although I agree with the sentiments that Alice Walker has shown her true colors in regards to her ignorance and bigotry, I am frankly a bit surprised by the overwhelming response from the Jewish community. Not to minimize antisemitism, but I don’t know if all of this attention is really necessary. The original letter to Yedidot Books (the publisher that wanted to create the new Hebrew addition) rehashes the standard anti-Israel rhetoric that is pretty popular among American “progressives”. She even feels the need to list Steven Spielberg by name. Her letter is filled with inaccuracies and a strong political tone; but I didn’t get the notion that she is a Jew-hater (she might be, but I don’t get that from her letter).
My question to many of the Jews who are writing about Alice Walker — have you written an equally inflammatory piece on Henry Ford? Henry Ford was (is?) deemed a genius for his success in regards to manufacturing and business management in the golden age of American industrialism. It is no secret that Henry Ford did not like Jews, but I don’t think people realize that he took his antisemitism to a whole new level and basically helped to popularize antisemitism in America. A publication that he started, The International Jew, was created to circulate antisemitic propaganda to the masses and is still in wide circulation today. During WWII, Henry Ford was one of the most powerful industrialists (if not the most powerful) in America and spoke openly about America’s involvement in the war, and not so openly provided direct support in regards to manufacturing and supplies to Nazi Germany.
I don’t point this out to exonerate Alice Walker. She made some foolish statements. But her little boycott is milder than what Mel Gibson has done with both his remarks regarding Jews and his movie The Passion of The Christ. And even though I was not pleased at all by Mel Gibson and I feel that he is a scumbag of a person; I still enjoyed his movie Apocalypto. I then came to realize that none of us are always right and there are many people who are mostly wrong. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have any redeeming value and do not contribute anything positive to the world.
The Color Purple is a great novel that was published 30 years ago. Several years after that, it was translated into Hebrew and made into a momentous film which was directed by a Jew. Noting that Alice Walker does or says now can change that. But what can change today is perspective and priorities. Jews have more pressing problems to deal with besides this woman and her politics. Like the delusion that we are fully accepted and can outsmart our pre-determined destiny…