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.