Given what I know about this readership, my opinion here may be controversial. The following is a June 20 Associated Press story entitled, “Alice Walker rejects Israeli translation of book”:

American writer Alice Walker won’t let an Israeli publisher release a new Hebrew edition of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Color Purple,” saying she objects to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

Walker, an ardent pro-Palestinian activist, said in a letter to Yediot Books that Israel practices “apartheid” and must change its policies before her works can be published there.

“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,” she wrote in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press. “I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time.”

There was something sweet about that last paragraph from Ms. Walker. I don’t believe she’s really a hater of Jews, especially considering that she married one; they divorced “amicably” ten years later, according to Wikipedia. But her obsession with Israel and Jewish issues is more than a little troubling.

Keep in mind that she doesn’t recognize the right of Israel to define itself as a Jewish state.  She signed a 1988 statement published in The NY Times demanding an end to US support for “apartheid Israel” and hailing a future of Israelis and Palestinians living together in one country (I heard her essentially restate this position a few months ago on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate interview show).  By way of contrast, later in 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization indicated an acceptance of a two-state solution.

Walker is also a crusader against Brit Milah, the Jewish rite of circumcising male babies as a symbol of the Covenant. These are both extreme, uncompromising positions. One is against a principle that most Jews consider sacrosanct: the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination. The other is against a sacred ritual of the Jewish religion.

Yet I believe that Walker is moved to both positions out of compassion. On Israel and the Palestinians, I take it at face value that she cares about Palestinian suffering, and I share this concern. But I see the 2006 turn of a narrow plurality of the Palestinian electorate toward Hamas (hard on the heels of Israel’s complete unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005) as tragic. On & off episodes of Palestinian attacks on Israel have triggered severe and bloody Israeli reprisals; another result of this narrow decision of Palestinian voters six and a half years ago (and the Hamas victory in the brief civil war in 2007) is that the sporadic violence out of Gaza has moved the Israeli electorate decisively to the right.

And I know that Walker and others (including some of you, dear readers) have humanitarian considerations about male circumcision. There are extremely rare instances of physical harm from this rite, but it’s wrong to conflate male circumcision with female genital mutilation, as Ms. Walker apparently does. We should also be aware that there is a growing consensus of scientific opinion that male circumcision is a significant preventive measure against AIDS and some other venereal diseases.

I am a stickler for precision in the use of one particular word—antisemitism. Walker’s choice of a Jewish husband and the last paragraph of her quote above are both indications that she’s not antisemitic, i.e., not a hater of Jews. However, whether she realizes it or not, she is establishing a track record for being anti-Jewish. Even if the English language has not yet derived the right term for such complexity, we should be able to distinguish between someone whom we would condemn as a hater of Jews (an antisemite) and someone whom many of us would argue with on principled grounds as an opponent of Jewish values and interests. Walker falls into the latter category.


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