Theater of Cruelty

Alice Walker, Anti-Semitism and the Price of Conscience

NO PLATFORMING / Under the heat of the Israel lobby, The Bay Area Book Festival humiliated one of the most gifted and courageous writers in the United States, Alice Walker. Do you remember her writing The Color Purple, for which she received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize?


  1. April 2022: You have to pay a high price to have a conscience. But even truer: You have to have courage if you want to follow it. The dogs of hell will nail you to the cross, hammer nails through your hands and feet as they grin like vicious animals, it will foam at their mouths as they proclaim respect for human rights, freedom of speech and diversity.

I've seen this happen lately Alice Walker, one of the most gifted and courageous writers we have in the United States. Walker, who was awarded Pulitzer Prizes for his novel The Color Purple , has felt the bitter sting of racism. She refuses to remain silent about the situation of the oppressed, including the Palestinians.

"When I come out with a book, or something that will place me in public, in the world, I am attacked as a person I do not recognize," she said when I reached her on the phone.

“If I were to keep track of all the attacks against me over the past decades, I would not be able to continue working. I'm glad people are standing up. That applies to many of us. Not just me. They try to ban us, gag us and erase our tracks. This is what is important," says Walker.

The Bay Area Book Festival [held in May] is the latest to deliver a salvo against Walker. The organizers withdrew the invitation because she praised the writings of the New Age author David Icke and called his book And the Truth Shall Set You Free too "brave".

Gave in to the mob

David Icke denies critics' accusations that he is anti-Semitic. The festival organizers misled themselves by saying they did not accuse Walker of anti-Semitism. No, she was banned because she praised a controversial author, an author I suspect few members of the committee have read at all. Poet and writer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, whom Walker was to interview, withdrew from the festival in protest at what Walker was subjected to.

A supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Walker has been a very public champion of Palestinian rights and a critic of Israel for many years. Her friendship with Icke has long been public knowledge. She has not hidden anything. It's not like the festival organizers suddenly discovered a dark secret about Walker. They actually tried to capitalize on her celebrity status, but when they started feeling the flames from the Israel lobby, they gave in to the mob and humiliated her.

"I don't know these people," Walker said of the festival organizers. “It feels like the southern states. You know they are out there in society and they have their positions, but you only see paper. That's what this is. It's like being back in the American South.”

Clearing out the bookshelves?

If you ban authors because of books they may like or find interesting, it makes a mockery of what a book festival should be about.

Should I be banned for admiring Louis-Ferdinand Céline's masterpiece The journey to the end of the night, Dwasted on credit og From castle to castle, despite his venomous anti-Semitism? Something he refused to distance himself from even after the Second World War?

Should I be banned because I appreciate books by Céline?

Should I get banned for liking Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, who I recently read about, and who was rabidly misogynistic? Should I be banned for loving William Butler Yeats, who, like Ezra Pound, and his many poems that have also stuck in my mind, because he collaborated with the fascists?

Should I be banned because I revere Hannah Arendt, whose attitude toward African Americans was paternalistic at best, and arguably racist? Should I be banned because I appreciate books by CS Lewis, Norman Mailer and DH Lawrence, who were homophobic?

Shouldn't we just as well clean up our bookshelves – if the attitudes of authors we read mean we are denied the right to speak?

The Bible condones the execution of homosexuals and women who commit adultery.

Not to mention the Bible, which I studied as a seminarian at Harvard Divinity School. God repeatedly calls for righteous acts of genocide, turning the Nile into blood so that the Egyptians will suffer from thirst. God sends swarms of locusts and flies to plague the Egyptians, along with hail, fire and thunder to destroy all plants and trees. God orders the firstborn in every Egyptian household to be killed so that everyone will know "that the Lord makes a difference between Egyptians and Israel". The killing continues until "there was not a house left where there were no dead".

The Bible contains much about such divinely sanctioned slaughters of non-believers. It supports slavery and the punishment of slaves. 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 missteps, a great religious, ethical and moral document. Because even the most flawed books often have something to teach us.

Attack on Walker's poem

The organizers of the festival attacked Walker for the poem "It is Our Frightful Duty". They accuse Walker of channeling Icke's alleged anti-Semitism into his own writing, as if Walker is incapable of thinking for himself. The attack on Walker's poem, which grossly misreads her intent, exposes their lie that Walker's stance on Israel and Palestine had nothing to do with the withdrawal of the invitation she had initially received.

"Unfortunately, Ms. Walker 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.

Walker's poem "It Is Our (Frightful) Duty to Study the Talmud" (2017) 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. In the poem, these religious texts are called hateful. “All of them: the Christian, the Jewish, the Muslim; yes, even the Buddhist. Everything, without exception, at its core.”

Slave owners defended the enslavement of blacks by citing a number of passages in both the Old and New Testaments.

Walker reminds us in his poem that these texts have been used over the millennia to glorify subjugation, dehumanization and murder. Slave owners defended the enslavement of blacks by citing a number of passages in both the Old and New Testaments, including Paul's letter to the Ephesians, in which, equating slaveholders with God, he writes: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters as against Christ himself, with respect and awe and from a sincere heart.”

Israel similarly seeks to legitimize its colonization/settlement 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 seventh century until it was conquered by military force in 1948. The Old Testament, in the hands of Zionists, is a deed to Palestinian land.


Dangerous theocracies

Walker exposes this religious chauvinism and mythology. She warns that theocracies that sanctify state power are dangerous. In the poem, she highlights passages in the Talmud that are used to condemn the non-believers. Jews must reject these parts of the Talmud and the Old Testament, just as those of us who are Christians must reject the hateful passages in the Bible. When these religious attacks are armed with zealots – be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish – they spread evil further.

Walker writes in his poem:

Is Jesus boiling eternally in hot excrement,
For his 'crime' of throwing the bankers
Out of the Temple? For loving, standing with,
And defending
The poor? Was his mother, Mary,
A whore?
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 meant
In our own lifetime.

Walker was invited to the festival to interview Honorée Fanonne Jeffers about her work, not to give a talk about Icke or Palestine – but whatever. She clashed with the thought police who always know how to use the opportunity to carry out smear campaigns against critics of Israel, but who happily ignore the poisonous and overt racism of Israeli politicians, military commanders, writers and intellectuals.

The thought police always know how to use the opportunity for smear campaigns against Israeli critics.

Walker is not the first author Israel has targeted. Israel has distanced itself from author Günter Grass and demanded that his Nobel prize be revoked after Grass wrote a poem condemning Germany's decision to give Israel nuclear submarines and warning that Israel "could wipe out the Iranian people" if it attacked Iran.

Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who calls for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to create a Greater Israel, described the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as "someone who has written lyrics against Zionism – which is still used as fuel for terrorist attacks against Israel...".

He said that honoring Darwish was like honoring Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf.

Israeli bookstores Steimatzky and Tzomet Sefarim removed Sally Rooney's novels from around 200 branches and websites because of her support for the BDS campaign.

Israeli writer Yehonatan Geffen was beaten outside his home for calling the Israeli prime minister a racist.

The board's decision

When I reached out for comment, Bay Area Book Festival founder and director Cherilyn Parsons defended the board's decision to withdraw Walker's invitation:

“Our decision to withdraw Ms. Walker's invitation had nothing to do with her views on Palestine, her voice as a black female writer, or her right to freely express her opinion. We respect all these things. Nor do we believe that she is anti-Semitic. (Being pro-Palestinian does not mean that a person is anti-Semitic, just as being Jewish does not mean that one is against Palestine.) Our decision was based solely on Ms. Walker's inexplicable continued support for David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who dangerously preaches such beliefs as Jewish people financed 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, which is available in full text on the internet.) Icke also regularly promotes Zion's protocols appear, a made-up, strongly anti-Semitic text that was widely read during the social upheavals in pre-World War II Germany – turning people's feelings against the Jews. A truly dangerous document for a population to accept. Finally, we note that Ms. Walker gave financial support to, and appeared in, a documentary celebrating Icke and his work.”

"I believe he is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Jewish," Walker wrote on his website. “I think he is brave enough to ask questions others are afraid to ask, and to give his own understanding of the truth wherever it may lead. Many attempts have been made to censor and silence him. As a woman, and of color, as a writer who has been criticized and banned, I support his right to express himself.”

"I maintain that I can be friends with whoever I want," Walker told me. "To think that this man is evil is strange, for he is not."

I worked for many years as a reporter in Jerusalem. I listened to the daily filth spewed by Israelis about Arabs and Palestinians, racist tropes used to justify Israeli apartheid and gratuitous violence against Palestinians.

Israel routinely orders airstrikes, targeted assassinations, drone strikes, artillery strikes, tank attacks and bombardment from ships against the largely defenseless population of Gaza. Israel readily denies that those it kills, including children, have a right to live, and flings itself around with deadly poisonous religious declarations. It is laughable that Israel and its American supporters can call themselves anti-racists, with the right to cancel Walker. That would be the same as allowing the Ku Klux Klan to approve the speaker lists.

Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur

Torat Ha'Melech (2009) by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur is one of many examples of the deep racism embedded in Israeli culture. The book provides rabbinical advice to Israeli soldiers and officers in the occupied Palestinian territories. The two authors write that non-Jews "lack empathy by nature" and that one can exterminate them to "reduce their evil inclinations":

"If we kill a heathen who has broken one of the seven commandments of [Noah] ... there is nothing wrong with the killing," say Yitzhak and Elitzur. The book assures the soldiers that it is morally legitimate to kill Palestinian children: "It is permissible to kill babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation it is permissible to harm them on purpose, and not just during fights with adults.”

The book assures the soldiers that it is morally legitimate to kill Palestinian children.

The biblical prohibition against 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 that it is "permitted" to kill Jewish dissidents. A Jewish dissident, the rabbis write, is a "rodef". A rodef, according to traditional Jewish law, is someone who "pursues" another person in order to murder that person. It is the duty of a Jew to kill a rodef if that person is warned that he/she must stop behaving in a threatening manner – and just continues. Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, claimed that his rodef, or "law of the persecutor," justified the killing.

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.

I say, "Boycott The Bay Area Book Festival." It is the least we owe a literary and moral titan.

Translation by John Y. Jones

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