[News] Alice Walker and the Price of Conscience - Boycott the Bay Area Book Fair
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 25 09:19:33 EDT 2022
Alice Walker and the Price of Conscience
Chris Hedges - April 24, 2022
There is a steep price to pay for having a conscience and more importantly
the courage to act on it. The hounds of hell pin you to the cross,
hammering nails into your hands and feet as they grin like the Cheshire cat
and mouth bromides about respect for human rights, freedom of expression
and diversity. I have watched this happen for some time to Alice Walker,
one of the most gifted and courageous writers in America. Walker, who was
awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel *The Color Purple,*
has felt the bitter sting of racism. She refuses to be silent about the
plight of the oppressed, including the Palestinians.
“Whenever I come out with a book, or anything that will take me before the
public, the world, I am assailed as this person I don’t recognize,” she
said when I reached her by phone. “If I tried to keep track of all the
attacks over the decades, I wouldn’t be able to keep working. I am happy
people are standing up. It is all of us. Not just me. They are trying to
shut us down, shut us up, erase us. That reality is what is important.”
The Bay Area Book festival delivered the latest salvo against Walker. The
organizers disinvited her from the event because she praised the writings
of the New Age author David Icke and called his book *And the Truth Shall
Set You Free* “brave.” Icke has denied critics’ charges of anti-Semitism.
The festival organizers twisted themselves into contortions to say they
were not charging Walker with anti-Semitism. She was banned because she
lauded a controversial writer, who I suspect few members of the committee
have read. The poet and writer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, who Walker was to
interview, withdrew from the festival in protest.
Walker, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
movement, has been a very public advocate for Palestinian rights and a
critic of Israel for many years. Her friendship with Icke has long been
part of the public record. She hid nothing. It is not as if the festival
organizers suddenly discovered a dark secret about Walker. They sought to
capitalize on her celebrity and then, when they felt the heat from the
Israel lobby, capitulated to the mob to humiliate her.
“I don’t know these people,” Walker said of the festival organizers who
disinvited her. “It feels like the south. You know they are out there in
the community, and they have their positions, but all you see are sheets.
That’s what this is. It’s like being back in the south.”
Banning writers because of books they like or find interesting nullifies
the whole point of a book festival. Should I be banned because I admire
Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s masterpieces *Journey to the End of the Night*, *Death
on the Installment Plan,* and* Castle to Castle*, despite his virulent
anti-Semitism, which even after World War II he refused to relinquish?
Should I be banned for liking Joseph Heller’s *Catch-22*, which I recently
reread, and which is rabidly misogynistic? Should I be banned for loving
William Butler Yeats, who, like Ezra Pound, many of whose poems I have also
committed to memory, was a fascist collaborator? Should I be banned because
I revere Hannah Arendt, whose attitudes towards African-Americans were
paternalistic, at best, and arguably racist? Should I be banned because I
cherish books by C.S. Lewis, Norman Mailer and D.H. Lawrence, who were
We might as well sweep clean library shelves if the attitudes of writers we
read mean we are denied a right to speak.
And let’s not even get started with the Bible, which I studied as a
seminarian at Harvard Divinity School. God repeatedly demands righteous
acts of genocide, transforming the Nile into blood so the Egyptians will
suffer from thirst. God sends swarms of locusts and flies to torture the
Egyptians, along with hail, fire and thunder to destroy all plants and
trees. God orders the firstborn in every Egyptian household killed so all
will know “that the Lord makes a distinction between Egyptians and Israel.”
The killing goes on until “there was not a house where one was not dead.”
The Bible contains much of this divinely sanctioned slaughtering of
non-believers. It endorses slavery and the beating of enslaved people. It
condones the execution of homosexuals and women who commit adultery. It
views women as property and approves the right of fathers to sell their
daughters. But the Bible also remains, with all these contradictions and
moral failings, a great religious, ethical and moral document. Even the
most flawed books often have something to teach us.
Organizers of the festival attacked Walker for her poem “It is Our
They accuse Walker of channeling Icke’s alleged anti-Semitism into her
writing, as if Walker is unable to think for herself. The attack on the
poem, which is a gross misreading of its intent, exposes the lie that
Walker’s position on Israel and Palestine had nothing to do with her being
“Unfortunately, Ms. Walker has not only promoted Icke’s ideas widely on her
own blog and in interviews, but they may have influenced her own writing,”
the festival wrote in a statement. “Ms. Walker's 2017 poem
"It is our (Frightful) Duty to Study the Talmud" encourages people to use
Google and Youtube to “follow the trail of “The / Talmud” as its poison
belatedly winds its way / Into our collective consciousness. // Some of
what you find will sound / Too crazy to be true. Unfortunately those bits
are likely / To be true.” A New York Magazine essay
by writer Nylah Burton (who identifies as Black and Jewish) describes her
reaction to Walker's support of Icke and this poem.”
The poem calls out these hate-filled religious texts. “All of it: The
Christian, the Jewish, The Muslim; even the Buddhist. All of it, without
exception, At the root.” Walker reminds us in the poem that these texts
have been used throughout millennia to sanctify subjugation, dehumanization
and murder. Slave holders defended the enslavement of Blacks by citing
numerous passages in the Old and the New Testament, including Paul’s Letter
to the Ephesians where, equating slaveholders with God, Paul writes: “Slaves,
be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of
heart, as to Christ.”
Israel seeks, in the same way, to legitimize its colonial-settler project
by citing the Old Testament and the Talmud, the primary source of Jewish
law. Never mind that Palestine was a Muslim country from the 7th century
until it was seized by military force in 1948. The Old Testament, in the
hands of Zionists, is a deed to Palestinian land.
Walker excoriates this religious chauvinism and mythology. She warns that
theocracies, which sacralize state power, are dangerous. In the poem, she
highlights passages in the Talmud used to condemn those outside the faith.
Jews must repudiate these sections in the Talmud and the Old Testament, as
those of us who are Christians must repudiate the hateful passages in the
Bible. When these religious screeds are weaponized by zealots —Christian,
Muslim or Jewish — they propagate evil.
Is Jesus boiling eternally in hot excrement,
For his “crime” of throwing the bankers
Out of the Temple? For loving, standing with,
The poor? Was his mother, Mary,
Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only
That, but to enjoy it?
Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?
Are young boys fair game for rape?
Must even the best of the Goyim (us, again) be killed?
Pause a moment and think what this could mean
Or already has meant
In our own lifetime.
Walker was invited to the festival to interview Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
about her work, not to give a lecture on Icke or Palestine — but no matter.
She ran afoul of the thought police, who are always vigilant about catering
to smear campaigns against Israeli critics but blithely ignore the virulent
and overt racism of Israeli politicians, military commanders, writers and
Walker is not the first writer targeted by Israel. Israel banned the author
Gunter Grass and demanded the rescindment of his Nobel prize after he wrote
a poem denouncing Germany’s decision to provide Israel with nuclear
submarines, warning that Israel "could wipe out the Iranian people" if it
attacked Iran. Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman
<http://www.haaretz.com/misc/tags/1.476749-1.476749>, who calls for the
ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to create a “Greater” Israel, described
the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as “someone who has written texts
against Zionism — which are still used as fuel for terror attacks against
Israel.” He said honoring Darwish was the equivalent to honoring Adolf
Hitler for “Mein Kampf.” Israeli bookstores Steimatzky and Tzomet Sefarim
purged Sally Rooney’s novels from some 200 branches and online sites
because of her support for BDS. Israeli writer Yehonatan Geffen was beaten
outside his home for calling the Israeli prime minister a racist.
Bay Area Book Festival founder and director Cherilyn Parsons defended the
board’s decision to disinvite Walker when I requested a comment:
Our decision to disinvite Ms. Walker had nothing to do with her position on
Palestine, her voice as a Black woman writer, or her right to speak her
mind freely. We honor all those things. We also do not hold that she is
anti-Semitic. (To be pro-Palestinian does not mean a person is
anti-Semitic, just as to be Jewish does not mean that one is
anti-Palestine.) Our decision was based purely on Ms. Walker’s
inexplicable, ongoing endorsement of David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who
dangerously promulgates such beliefs as that Jewish people bankrolled
Hitler, caused the 2008 global financial crisis, staged the 9/11 terrorist
attacks, and more. (See his book “And the Truth Shall Set You Free,"
on the Internet Archive.) Icke also regularly promotes “The Protocols of
the Elders of Zion,” a fabricated, uber-anti-Semitic text that was widely
read during the time of social upheaval in pre-WWII Germany and turned
public sentiment against Jews–a truly dangerous document for a populace to
embrace. Finally, we note that Ms. Walker provided financial support for,
and participation in, a documentary celebrating Icke and his work
“I do not believe he is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish,” Walker posted on her
website. “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. Many attempts have been made to censor and silence him. 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.”
“I maintain that I can be friends with whoever I like,” Walker told me.
“The attachment to this belief that this person is evil is strange. He’s
I worked for two years as a reporter in Jerusalem. I listened to the daily
filth spewed out by Israelis about Arabs and Palestinians, who used racist
tropes to sanctify Israeli apartheid and gratuitous violence against
Palestinians. Israel routinely orders air strikes, targeted assassinations,
drone attacks, artillery strikes, tank assaults and naval bombardments on
the largely defenseless population in Gaza. Israel blithely dismisses those
it murders, including children, as unworthy of life, drawing on poisonous
religious edicts. It is risible that Israel and its US supporters can
posit themselves as anti-racists, abrogating the right to cancel Walker. It
is the equivalent of allowing the Klan to vet speakers lists.
*Torat Ha’Melech* by Rabbi Yitzhak and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur is one of
innumerable examples of the deep racism embedded in Israeli culture. The
book provides rabbinical advice to Israeli soldiers and officers in the
occupied Palestinian territories. It describes non-Jews as
“uncompassionate by nature” and justifiably exterminated to “curb their
evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven
commandments of [Noah]…there is nothing wrong with the murder.” It assures
troops that it is morally legitimate to kill Palestinian children, writing,
“There is justification for killing babies if it is clear they will grow up
to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and
not only during combat with adults.” The Biblical prohibition on murder,
Yitzhak and Elitzur write, “refers only to a Jew who kills a Jew, and not
to a Jew who kills a gentile, even if that gentile is one of the righteous
among the nations.” They even say it is “permissible” to kill Jewish
dissidents. A Jewish dissident, the rabbis write, is a *rodef. *A *rodef*,
according to traditional Jewish law, is someone who is "pursuing" another
person to murder him or her. It is the duty of a Jew to kill a *rodef *if
the *rodef* is told to cease the threatening behavior and does not. Yigal
Amir, who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, argued
that the *din rodef, *or "law of the pursuer,” justified Rabin’s murder.
Walker is the best among us. She is one of our most gifted and lyrical
writers. She stands unequivocally with the crucified of the earth. She sees
her own pain in the pain of others. She demands justice. She pays the price.
Boycott the Bay Area Book Festival.
That is the least we owe a literary and moral titan.
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