Well-known author/poet Alice Walker (1983 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction for The Color Purple), also something of a fringe activist, vilified Israel and Jews in interviews during an April 2010 promotional tour for her new book, Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel. The book deals with Walker’s 2008-09 travels to Africa and “Palestine/Israel” (mainly the Gaza Strip). In interviews (from San Francisco and New York), listeners hear about Walker’s personal experiences and knowledge of white Southerners’ treatment of African-Americans, the brutality of which she describes. Subsequently in the interviews, Walker mistakenly equates this treatment with Israeli behavior toward Palestinian Arabs.
Walker’s San Francisco events were KQED’s April 19 Forum radio program (available on-line) and City Arts & Lectures April 20 theater presentation (not available on-line, heard July 11 on over 170 public radio stations around the country). Both the radio broadcast and the theater presentation were funded by Jewish philanthropic foundations (see below). KQED is an affiliate of National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
Walker’s characterizations of Israel are described by author Phyllis Chesler (psychotherapist and professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island-CUNY) in a June 2010 article, Alice Walker: Stop Telling Lies About Israel.
Walker Equates Israeli Settlers to Germans (the City Arts presentation of April 20)
The two San Francisco interviews were conducted by Forum host Michael Krasny (lecturer on Jewish themes, professor of English at San Francisco State University). Expressing anti-Israel sentiments or worse, Walker, whose Pulitzer Prize winning fictional work depicted the story of a young black woman fighting her way through Southern racist white culture, maliciously and falsely condemned Israeli settlers (“settlers in Israel … are just as German as they are Jewish”) while ignoring the intolerance of Palestinian Arabs who refuse to live with Jewish communities in territory they claim as theirs although Arabs enjoying full civil rights live in Arab communities within Israel.
Walker’s Germany/Israel comparison is disturbing on at least two grounds: 1) It reveals Walker’s ignorance of the ideologies and behaviors of both parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which the Arab side in particular long has been influenced by Nazi themes (see, for example, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, by Jeffrey Herf, Yale University Press), and 2) Walker’s more general identification of Israel with colonialism. The Zionist movement eventually drove the colonial British out of Mandatory Palestine and established the most economically successful, politically democratic and socially diverse state of all post-colonial countries. It represented an indigenous people, the Jews, rebuilding a sovereign state on a minority of its ancient homeland. Walker appears oblivious to the fact that Arab emigration from what became Israel – a smaller phenomenon than the expulsion of Jews from Arab states, of which she also seems unaware – resulted from the Arabs’ violent rejection of the U.N.’s 1947 partition plan calling for one Jewish state and another Arab state. (Jordan, an Arab state created unilaterally by Great Britain and from which Jews were banned, in violation of the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate, occupies 77 percent of the territory originally allocated to Mandatory Palestine.)
Following remarks about the black civil rights struggle in America and the horrors in Rwanda and eastern Congo, Krasny asks Walker, “Is there a sense in your mind of a connection between the colonialism and the horrors in Africa and the bombings and the victims that you witnessed from those bombings in Gaza?”:
Yes. I see it as the same colonialism. I see it as the same. In fact, I think that one of the things we forget about the settlers in Israel, is that they are just as German as they are Jewish. And so that the German influence that caused so much damage in Rwanda is in some of the behavior of the German Jews in Israel. And that’s the part which we need to look at more.
Krasny, himself a member of the San Francisco area Jewish community, had no compunction in reinforcing Walker’s erroneous and slanderous anti-Jewish, anti-Israel thesis: “Yes…German Jews – the echoes – there used to be a lot of feeling that German Jews were perhaps most balefully influenced as a result of the Holocaust – the Shoah – and so forth.”
Walker Equates Israel to Former Germany
Walker further says:
I feel that the Israel that many Jews dreamed of having – that one is gone. That’s demolished. I think it’s time for people to accept that. Because what you have now is something that is so frightening. Israel is as frightening to many of us as Germany used to be.
Walker is apparently unaware that Israel, a thriving modern state, is a Western-style democracy in sharp contrast with most Middle East societies including that of the Palestinian Arabs. That Israel must remain militarily strong in order to survive the repeated attacks and violence ignited by its neighbors’ often expressed obsession to destroy the Jewish state makes it no more “frightening” than American military strength during the Cold War against Soviet communism nor currently in the face of international Islamic extremist movements makes this country “frightening.” In essence, consciously or subconsciously, Walker pursues an anti-Zionist, ultimately anti-Semitic goal: to deprive the Jewish state and people of the universal right to self-defense recognized in the U.N. Charter.
Krasny asks for a clarification of Walker’s comparison of Israel to Germany: “Because it’s such a military state, you mean?”:
Oh, because it’s a military state, it’s an arrogant state. It’s a state that does really atrocious things to people. And, you know, the world sees this. It’s not as if it’s hidden. It’s hidden to so many Americans because we are Americans and they can just hide this from us. But most of the planet really is not kept in our kind of unawareness about the realities of what is happening.
Here, Walker insists on an absurdity: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is “hidden” to Americans but “the world sees” it. In fact, this conflict is intensively covered by the media. There is “greatly disproportionate attention given to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in comparison with other, more deadly, wars around the globe” according to a Miami Herald review (Jan. 20, 2009) of Professor Virgil Hawkins’ book, Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence is Ignored. Amazon’s review of the book states: “Stealth Conflicts opens a nasty can of political worms, revealing that 90 percent of the world’s conflict-related deaths occur not in the media-focused Middle East, but in war-torn Africa.” Much of the way “the world” “sees” Israel is distorted by the lenses of Arab-Islamic propaganda and media and anti-Zionist if not antisemitic coverage in both far left and neo-Nazi European sources. Apparently, Walker would rather falsely smear Israel than call attention to actual, widespread atrocities in Africa. Such obsessive, misplaced focus suggests bias.
Walker’s Forum Broadcast
In a confused reaction to a caller’s question, “What of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who’ve been forced to leave Arab countries?,” Walker said:
Well, I’m not versed on that at the moment. My attention has been really on Israel and Palestine. That’s where I’ve actually stood. In the future I would like to go and witness some of this. But I would like to stay with this until we actually see our way clear to some thoughtfulness on the issue.
The poet/author, insisting that “[T]he people (Palestinian Arabs) who have been forced out of there also belong there – it was their home and it was not the right thing to do to take away their villages …” evidently does not know that in the wake of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, caused by Arab rejection of the U.N’s partition compromise, widespread attacks on Palestinian Jews by Palestinian Arab “irregulars” and then outright invasion by five Arab states, the overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees were not expelled by the Israelis. But a much larger number of refugees, Jewish refugees who had resided in Arab countries for many generations, were forced to flee their native lands.
Host Krasny went on to read a Forum listener’s e-mail message:
“One can have all the sympathy in the world for the people of Israel and Palestine and the hardships on both sides, but to say the people (Gazans) are starving, however, is a gross exaggeration. Basic humanitarian supplies cross the Gaza border every day …”
(Walker interrupted, laughing hysterically as if in total disbelief.)
Krasny continued reading:
“The West Bank has a rapidly growing economy (Walker again laughs). Starvation is not a problem. Neither side will ever willingly agree to a one-state solution. A one-state solution is equivalent to the destruction of Israel. I read the PA has a draft constitution and Hamas has a charter to exterminate Israel and the Jews believe they mean them. They mean it.”
Walker, evading the listener’s points, replied:
[T] he people are actually starving. It’s the kind of slow starvation. When I was in Gaza a year ago I talked to psychiatrists who were treating children who can’t really think properly because with the bombs falling even when there’s a supposed cease-fire and the lack of food because the Israelis will let in one – like one week they will let in a whole lot of melons …
But while some conditions are difficult for Gazans resulting from the behavior of Gaza’s Hamas rulers, Gazans are not starving. In fact, “[G]rocery stores are stocked wall-to-wall with everything from fresh Israeli yogurts and hummus to Cocoa Puffs smuggled in from Egypt. Pharmacies look as well-supplied as a typical Rite Aid in the United States.” (Washington Post, June 3, 2010). More recent news reports indicate smuggling through the Gaza-Egypt frontier tunnels has reversed direction, with plentiful goods in demand moving from the Strip into Egypt. Moreover, while Walker claims to have spoken with Gaza psychiatrists, she evidently failed to speak to Israeli psychiatrists who treat Israeli children suffering mentally from rockets shot from Gaza. Literally thousands of rockets and mortar shells have been launched at non-combatant targets in Israeli villages and towns from Gaza since Israel withdrew from the Strip in 2005. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder reportedly are common among Israeli adults and children. Walker’s selective sympathy suggests hypocrisy.
Walker’s Warped Perceptions of the Arab/Israeli Conflict
Walker’s warped perceptions of the Arab/Israeli conflict are exemplified when (in the Forum broadcast) in reply to her point that “women on both sides” can take the lead in ending the conflict, host Krasny points out “the difficulty, though, in Palestine with respect to male hegemony and patriarchy and those kinds of problems.” Walker, playing the part of an apologist for the Palestinian Arabs, immediately reacts to Krasny’s point by launching into a defamation of Israel: “The misogyny and the woman–hating and the abuse of woman and children was so much more in Israel than I ever dreamed.” Walker’s mendacity not withstanding, mistreatment of women in Israeli society is on a par with that of other Western nations, which is to say, it is at a significantly lower level th an that of the Arab/Islamic world including Palestinian society. The appalling treatment of women in many Arab and Islamic societies, including Palestinian communities, has been much discussed. For example, Gaza women are generally denied inheritance rights (Jerusalem Post article by Rachelle Kliger, March 7, 2010). Abuse of women in Palestinian society and elsewhere in Islamic societies is rife. Walker, known as an advocate for oppressed women everywhere, is silent here regarding common patriarchical practices across the Arab/Islamic world such as the taking of several wives, and beating them at will and so-called “honor killings” of thousands of women by male family members in the name of family honor for “capital crimes” such as alleged pre-marital sexual relations.
Walker demonized Israel in reply to Krasny’s point (in the City Arts presentation) that a one-state solution (favored by Walker) could mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state:
We don’t have a Christian state and we’re fine. I mean, I think that it’s more important, really, to have a country that accepts and loves all of its people and at some point you have to grow up and understand that just because you have this idea that all of it should be yours – that in some ways that is like a child’s vision – when you have to, you know, kill other people, abuse other people, drive them from their homes, bomb their hospitals, kill their children – what kind of country are you even trying to have?
Here, the problem is not only Walker’s demonization of Israel – it is not guilty of the atrocity generalization she makes – but also ignorance: Israel is a state, unlikely virtually any other in the Middle East, in which all citizens enjoy civil equality regardless of gender, religion or race. Israel hardly has a policy that “all of it [the land] should be yours.” The Zionist movement generations ago dropped its claims to that large portion of Mandatory Palestine east of the Jordan River. Israeli governments for two decades have been trying to negotiate “land-for-peace” compromises based on a “two-state solution” with Palestinian Arab leadership, only to be met with either duplicity or outright rejection and violence in 1993, 2000, 2001 and 2008. In effect, Walker’s position is that the legitimate self-defense of a democratic, Western state virtually under siege is not legitimate if it’s a Jewish state surrounded by hostile movements and countries, many of whom claim either that their official state religion is Islam or that their national laws originate in Islam.
Further, her social analysis is superficial: She doesn’t feel the need to live in “a Christian state” perhaps because, even if she does not recognize it, she lives in a majority Christian nation whose laws and mores were shaped largely by the Anglo-Protestant world view of its first settlers and founders. Further, while Christians and Christianity have not been in danger of widespread or total destruction since the mid-Roman empire or early Islamic invasions of Europe, Jews and Judaism have been and, in no small degree, remain so; hence the danger of statelessness and powerlessness for the Jewish people and the necessity of the Jewish state of Israel.
Useful Idiots or Willful Collaborators?
Why would Jewish philanthropic foundations – like those who funded Alice Walker’s presentations in San Francisco – support communications media events unfairly denigrating Israel and Jews without at least requiring offsetting, factual presentations? Are these philanthropies merely “useful idiots” or do they knowingly participate?
Funding Walker’s April 19/20 Condemnations of Israel
The San Francisco area Jewish family foundation, Louise And Claude Rosenberg Jr Family Foundation, is the major funder of KQED’s Forum broadcasts. These foundations of Jewish origin are the main funders of City Arts presentations: Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, Mimi and Peter Hass Fund, Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation. There’s no indication in either the Forum or City Arts on-line archives of any presentation, before or after the Walker appearances, that would present a more nuanced or balanced view of the conflict.
Jewish Organizations and Anti-Israel Propaganda
It is not unusual for organizations founded by Jews to fund or otherwise promote unfair condemnation of Israeli policies. For example, Sojourners, a quasi-Christian group, which regularly condemns legitimate Israeli self-defense policies, has received generous funds from George Soros’s Open Society Institute (OSI). In an article in the New York Review of Books, Mr. Soros, a Holocaust survivor who has distanced himself from the idea of a Jewish state, wrote that the U.S. should pressure Israel to “negotiate” with Hamas, which is a recognized terrorist organization that vows to destroy Israel.
Columnist Carolyn Glick wrote (July 31, 2009) about the Jewish organization, J Street, in a Jerusalem Post article, The Lonely Israeli Left: J Street. The organization, she argued, was a “creation of … anti-Israel activist George Soros – [which] was established ahead of the 2008 elections to lobby the White House and Congress to foment breaches in the US-Israel strategic relationship.”
One CAMERA analysis characterizes the organization Jewish Voice for Peace as “A Voice for Defamation.” It is essentially dedicated to voicing condemnation of Israeli policies. The New Israel Fund funds several organizations hostile to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Michael J. Jordan, August 14, 2008).
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(From an Alice Walker favorite book, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)