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Alice Walker gets a celebrity pass

by Shmuel Rosner

July 4, 2012 | 9:44 am

Alice Walker holds up a sign at a press conference in front of the "U.S. boat to Gaza" at Perama port near Athens, June 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

There’s a debate going on about Alice Walker’s true motivation behind ‎her decision not to let an Israeli publisher translate her book into ‎Hebrew. ‎

Her logic is quite lopsided:‎

I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse. ‎Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond ‎Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than what ‎they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated ‎South Africa for so long.‎

But the logic of her interpreters is also problematic. Daniel Gordis ‎compared her to Richard Wagner – I must say that is a both a stretch ‎and a habit that is quite tired. Germany appears in Gordis’ first ‎paragraph, Wagner in the second, “Nazi Germany” further down the ‎article. Heavy ammunition against – well – that is really the question: ‎What’s really the problem with Walker? Elisheva Goldberg, of Open ‎Zion, predictably gives Walker the pass (will we ever see a day in ‎which an Israel critic is also criticized in turn by Open Zion bloggers?) – she’s ‎not an anti-Semitic critic of Israel, Goldberg says. Proof:‎

And there’s more than just a shared heritage of oppression: Walker ‎married (and divorced) a Jewish civil rights lawyer and they ‎became the first legally married interracial couple ever to live in ‎Jackson, Mississippi.  They had a child, a daughter named ‎Rebecca, who still grapples with her black, white, and Jewish ‎identity. The Color Purple—the very novel she refuses to publish in ‎Israel—was first turned into a movie by Steven Spielberg.‎

Yet again, what’s Walker’s problem? Goldberg, naturally, is happy to ‎say there is no problem:‎

Alice Walker is not boycotting Jews. She is not even boycotting ‎Israelis. She is boycotting the government of Israel. ‎

Well, not true. Walker is not boycotting the government; she’s ‎boycotting Israelis – the prospective readers of her book. Believe me, ‎the government doesn’t care (and shouldn’t care) whether Walker’s ‎book is bought by a private Publishing House and translated and is ‎sold to Israeli readers. So Goldberg is wrong to casually treat ‎Walker’s move as a protest against the Israeli government, but she has ‎a point when it comes to her own protestation against Gordis’ casual ‎use of Nazi analogies. As much as I agree with Gordis that Walker’s ‎position is far from acceptable, I think his analysis of her motivation ‎is probably false, and the key sentence leading him to the wrong ‎conclusion is this one:‎

When a person of Walker’s obvious intelligence utters such drivel, ‎what we have is not a matter of ignorance. It is a matter of hate. ‎

This is the basic logic: Walker is intelligent, hence it can not be ‎ignorance that makes her say such things and do such things, hence ‎there must be other reason we should be looking for, hence the most ‎available other-reason is hate. ‎

But what if Gordis’ premise is wrong? What if Walker is not as ‎intelligent as he believes she is? What if writing books about ‎whatever-it-is-she-writes-about doesn’t necessarily make Walker more ‎informed about world affairs than your average Joe? What if writing ‎books make authors even less likely to understand world affairs? ‎Since I work for a publisher, I get to meet with many authors of many ‎books. Almost all of them are quite intelligent, but not all have much ‎to say about political affairs that is worth listening to. And some have ‎strange ideas and radical tendencies. Authors, both in Israel and in the ‎US, get to speak about many things in which they don’t understand ‎‎(much like actors, rock stars and other celebrities). ‎

So - I’ll give Walker a celebrity pass. The pass of ignorance. And if ‎because of her ignorance Israelis will not be able to read The Color ‎Purple in Hebrew – they shall overcome.‎

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