by: David Harris-Gershon on June 21st, 2012 | 7 Comments »
As one who occasionally publishes opinion pieces in The Jerusalem Post — countering the paper’s normative conservatism with a progressive perspective — I often come across pieces with which I either disagree politically or find distasteful.
However, I have never encountered a more morally offensive piece in Israel’s largest English-language paper than one posted today by a regular contributor entitled “Alice Walker’s Bigotry.”
Before exploring this unhinged piece, and the motivations behind its publication, a bit of context is in order.
Alice Walker, Pulitzer-Prize winner and literary hero, has in recent years been invested in Palestinian human rights, and is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at pressuring Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Recently, it was reported that Walker has refused translation rights of her book, The Color Purple, to the Israeli publisher Yediot Books. As Walker eloquently notes in a letter published by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, her decision not to publish in Israel can be placed within her own historical narrative (and the narrative of The Color Purple itself):
When the film of The Color Purple was finished, and all of us who made it decided we loved it, Steven Spielberg, the director, was faced with the decision of whether it should be permitted to travel to and be offered to the South African public. I lobbied against this idea because, as with Israel today, there was a civil society movement of BDS aimed at changing South Africa’s apartheid policies and, in fact, transforming the government.
It was not a particularly difficult position to hold on my part: I believe deeply in non-violent methods of social change though they sometimes seem to take forever, but I did regret not being able to share our movie, immediately, with (for instance) Winnie and Nelson Mandela and their children, and also with the widow and children of the brutally murdered, while in police custody, Steven Biko, the visionary journalist and defender of African integrity and freedom.
We decided to wait. How happy we all were when the apartheid regime was dismantled and Nelson Mandela became the first president of color of South Africa.
Only then did we send our beautiful movie! And to this day, when I am in South Africa, I can hold my head high and nothing obstructs the love that flows between me and the people of that country.
Which is to say, I would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young, and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside. I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time.
We must continue to work on the issue, and to wait.
In faith that a just future can be fashioned from small acts,
Because Alice Walker is a literary giant, and because her book, The Color Purple, is a transformative narrative that notably wrestles with such themes as racism and inequality, her refusal to publish in Israel has generated plenty of debate, much of which has been thoughtful.
While some disagree with the parallels Walker makes between apartheid South Africa and Israel, and while others question the efficacy of BDS in general, I share Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf’s view that her boycott of Israel, and her refusal to publish with Yediot Books, is an “honest, moral form of activism.”
However, what is neither moral nor honest is the response to Walker’s move penned by Alan Dershowitz and published today by The Jerusalem Post:
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, who has a long history of supporting terrorism against Israel, has now resorted to bigotry and censorship against Hebrew-speaking readers of her writings. She has refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew.
This is the moral and legal equivalent of neo-Nazi author David Duke disallowing his books to be sold to Black and Jewish readers.
Her bigotry against the Jewish state and in support of terrorists knows no bounds. Now she is even prepared to impose censorship of her own writings as a tool in support of terrorism.
She should not be permitted to get away with such bigotry. Nor should her actions be seen as morally elevated.
Aside from the absurdity of Dershowitz calling Walker a bigot, what we have here is a piece full of slanderous associations and obscene allegations. It is a piece so unhinged and vile that there is no justification for a mainstream publication with a large and diverse readership base to print it. (It should be noted that The Jerusalem Post is widely read in America, with an Alexa traffic rank of 2,301.)
And yet, The Jerusalem Post has published it, valuing the traffic it will bring over honest debate, valuing attention-getting screed over intellectual dissent. Is there a justification for publishing Dershowitz’s dishonest character assassination? No. Is there a reason for doing so? There always is.
If there’s one thing Dershowitz’s piece tells us, it’s this: Walker’s move to boycott Israel at present is a powerful and resonant one — its reverberations frightening the most unhinged tribalists among my people and demonstrating the power of nonviolent protest.
Follow the author – David Harris-Gershon – on Twitter @David_EHG