Monday, June 18, 2012

Alice Walker Says No Hebrew Translation of "The Color Purple"

As part of her general boycott of Israel, Alice Walker is refusing to allow her novel "The Color Purple" to be translated into Hebrew (the article sounds like her objection is to the Hebrew language, not the publishing house, though it's a little unclear). Though if it is literally just a problem with the language that Jews and Israelis speak, then I think we've found a topper to this includes any reference to their wildlife.

In all seriousness, Alice Walker's problems with anti-Semitism -- going well beyond "criticizing Israel" -- are nothing new. I mean, even Michael Lerner regretted invited her to speak, saying she was offensive and put-downish towards the Jewish people as a whole. Lerner's note that Walker was utterly dismissive of Jewish history accords with my own reading of her, and is doubly ironic given her prior arrogant assertion that "Jews who know their own history" agree with her.

But this does demonstrate with renewed vividness the connection between Walker's famous sentiment ("No one is your friend who demands your silence"), and her later remark regarding Israel that "when a country primarily instills fear in the minds and hearts of the people of the world, it is no longer useful in joining the dialogue we need for saving the planet." Walker, of course, feels that Israel is primarily fear-inducing to "the people of the world" (most Jews excluded, naturally), and so she would rather not engage in discourse with them -- preferring them to be silenced as others determine their fate.

Alice Walker is no friend of Jews. There's nothing new to that statement, but it bears repeating. It's tragic when someone looked up to by so many turns so viciously, but it can't be ignored.

5 comments:

PG said...

But this does demonstrate with renewed vividness the connection between Walker's famous sentiment ("No one is your friend who demands your silence"), and her later remark regarding Israel that "when a country primarily instills fear in the minds and hearts of the people of the world, it is no longer useful in joining the dialogue we need for saving the planet." ... Alice Walker is no friend of Jews.

Isn't there a slight logic break in that argument? Obviously, Walker is no friend of Israel, and she'd probably agree that she isn't. But is she demanding the silence of Jews-qua-Jews if she demands the silence of Israel?

David Schraub said...

Israeli Jews, to be precise (the PACBI boycott conceptualizes itself as an ally of Israeli Arabs; thus restricting its fire to Jewish targets). But Walker has also been clear of her contempt for Jews in general (save the few who "know their own history", which is to say, agree with her and disagree with most Jews).

isomorphisms said...

[Hi - I've been a long time reader but never had anything to add to your thoughtful commentary until now.]

Canadian commentator Neil Macdonald (who, to say the least, has found a larger fan base among critics of Israel than among defenders) has weighed in on this issue. Although it's not the central point of his piece, he touches upon something important that is dead obvious to anyone who's studied Israel in any detail, but denied or glossed over by ideologues of all stripes: namely, that criticism of Israel is alive and well among Israeli Jews living in Israel. Moreover, this criticism often takes a form that would be considered downright treasonous by certain Republican (and in Canada, Conservative) lawmakers; and that wouldn't be entirely out of place among the polemics found in the hard-left anti-Zionist camp. And yet to listen to both of those groups, you'd think that Israeli Jewish society were an extension of the Tea Party. Acknowledging the robust debate that occurs even just within the Jewish community within Israel's borders is a necessary step in moving toward a just solution, and it's telling how infrequently that is done in favour of caricaturing the region as consisting of far-right Jews versus left (or something - was never quite clear on this one) Arabs and Palestinians.

David Schraub said...

Iso: I agree entirely, though I also think Walker understates the degree to which that debate is vibrant in the US -- perhaps because, vibrancy notwithstanding, there is a wide consensus against BDS and in favor of a two-state solution, which Walker rejects. It is easy to cry "silencing" when one's own views are considered beyond the pale, but that doesn't mean the judgment wasn't made in a rational and well-thought out manner (Walker's belief that Jews suffer from collective mass derangement notwithstanding).

Generally, discourse of this form "nobody can criticize or talk honestly about Israel" really means "nobody can say the things I want to say about Israel", which raises the question: "Is what you're saying legitimate?" Alice Walker thinks that only people who think like Alice Walker count as "critics of Israel", which makes it far easier for her to imagine a sort of reflexive silencing going on rather than something targeted specifically at her particular style of repugnant beliefs.

isomorphisms said...

Oh, absolutely. But here where I live (Vancouver) even the statement "nobody can say the things I want to say about Israel" isn't the case - my member of Parliament, for instance, is on record as supporting BDS, though that's not her party's platform and to her party's credit, she was promptly taken to task by the party leader for going public with her stance. Nevertheless, she still appears as a plenary speaker at BDS workshops, so.

And yet *still*, people who hold positions similar to my MP's think that they're boldly saying what everyone is thinking but afraid to say. Meanwhile, in the ten years I've lived here, I've had a handful of people ask if I'd be attending some concert that was a benefit for IJV, or casually reference the Zionist media conspiracy, and so on. That is, it is both assumed there is consensus on these things, AND that no one is brave enough to say them. My (tepid, but dissenting) reactions to these assumptions always appear to catch these people entirely off-guard; steered away from their talking points, they're lost. Which makes me think that no one had actually ever tried to "silence" (ie, disagree with) them before.