Alice Walker Refuses to Publish Her Book in Israel

I’m not disputing anybody’s right to publish their books, not publish them or eat them for breakfast, of course. However, I have to say that I find the following declaration by writer Alice Walker to be nothing but a clumsy attempt at self-promotion:

Shining light human rights activist Alice Walker has refused to have her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple published in Israel. In a letter to the prospective publisher she writes:

“Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.”

If Walker were really interested in battling the alleged racist tendencies among the Israelis, one would think that she’d want her anti-racist book to become as widely known among the people of Israel as possible. I have to wonder how barring access to an anti-racist piece of fiction is supposed to stop people from racist practices.

The comparison between Israeli policies in Palestine with the Apartheid is a favorite toy of lazy minds. Instead of analyzing the complex phenomenon of Israeli-Palestinian relations, lazy people think they are being progressive by dismissing both Israel and South Africa through claiming that they are essentially the same. Who needs to look into the particularities of these boring conflicts between tedious foreign folks? It is so much easier to declare that they are all the same and the best way to deal with them is by boycotting them until they resolve their boring conflicts.

Walker claims that her novel is part of “the world-wide effort to rid humanity of its self-destructive habit of dehumanizing whole populations.” I believe, however, that dehumanization starts when you experience the need to conflate the problems of completely different societies (such as South Africa and Israel, for example) in an attempt to spare yourself time and effort by dismissing the complex and painful realities of others. I encounter this attitude only too often when  people react to my polite reminder that I’m not from Russia with an impatient gesture aimed at waving off my insignificant belief in my own difference.

“Oh, it’s the same thing,” they always say, jerking their heads impatiently, annoyed that I dare to expect a more nuanced approach to my reality than they are willing to provide.

Walker’s statement reminded me a lot of the attitude exhibited by these “you-people-are-all-the-same” folks.

About these ads

44 comments on “Alice Walker Refuses to Publish Her Book in Israel

  1. I agree 100%. I’m a strong critic of many of Israel policies, but calling this complex situation apartheid is ridiculous. Incidentally, the extreme right which was part of the government coalition there proposed some legal measures that were truly verging on apartheid. The rest of the coalition pulled out rather than ratify these measures.

    This once again shows that while the situation is quite unjust, it is not yet best described as apartheid, and as you say, it is at best intellectual laziness and at worst dishonest equivocating to call the situation there apartheid.

  2. sorry this is off topic.. but you brought up the Ukraine and its relationship to Russia again so I had a quick question. Is the Ukraine’s relationship with Russia and individual Russians pretty strained? My grandparents were from Latvia and the hostility that still exists in Latvia (while understandable) is quite palpable.

    Just came to mind when you mentioned the Ukraine so I was curious of your knowledge of how Ukranians view the situation. Thanks!

    • There is a huge divide in Ukraine right now. People from the East and South of the country who had been in the USSR the longest have been so brainwashed into believing that the Russians are superior to them that now they detest any sign of their Ukrainian origins. They are a sort of Russian wannabes whom the Russians despise and ridicule. People in the Central and Western regions are working hard to recover their culture, language and heritage. It is hard to do that because Russia keeps intruding upon the Ukrainian internal affairs. The Ukrainians who still have some self-respect detest the attempts of the Russians to butt into their country’s affairs. The self-haters welcome those attempts.

  3. Lots of people have written detailed comparisons of Israel and South Africa.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_and_the_apartheid_analogy#Marriage_law_as_example_of_apartheid

    No one is claiming that Israel is exactly the same as South Africa during the apartheid era. But they do have some things in common, which is why people are making the analogy.

    You are the one who is being lazy by dismissing the apartheid analogy without pointing out which differences between Israel and South Africa would make a comparison inappropriate.

    • I don’t think anyone is arguing that Arab Israelis don’t get the short end of the stick at times (hence the comment “I’m a strong critic of many of Israel policies”). However there is a significant difference between an oppressed minority (say Gipsies/Roma in most of Western Europe) and an apartheid state as it was in South Africa.

      Personally, I think people making the analogy are simply not aware of exactly how horrific the apartheid regime was in South Africa and if they knew the would refrain from the frivolous comparison.

    • “You are the one who is being lazy by dismissing the apartheid analogy without pointing out which differences between Israel and South Africa would make a comparison inappropriate.”

      - These are two different countries with a different history, different geography, different cultural, linguistic and racial makeup. But yes, they do have some things in common. For instance, they are both inhabited by human beings.

      I don’t like terminology confusion. Israel is Israel, Apartheid is Apartheid, Holocaust is Holocaust, and slavery is slavery. Just like “wage slavery” is an expression used by idiots, so are the useless simplifying comparisons between two complex realities.

  4. Yes, I don’t go in for people playing those sorts of games very much. I call them identity politics, and there is only a very loose correlation between identity politics and people’s actual experiences.

    I had the same experience as Clarissa when I migrated. People said, “Where are you from?” and I replied, “Zimbabwe”.

    “Oh,” they said. “South Africa!”

    Huge differences between Zimbabwe and South Africa. One was a nominally Marxist state, the other an apartheid regime. Zimbabwe was not (and is not) a very industrialized country. South Africa is, for the most part, extremely industrialized and modern.

    • Also, to add to the above, nobody ever asked how I felt about anything. Nobody asked what Zimbabwe was like, because they presumed they already knew better than I did. They understood above all that I needed to be reeducated. I had to accept that my life in Africa was abnormal and that the Western superficial materialist culture of the 1980s was the quintessence of moral realism.

      • “Also, to add to the above, nobody ever asked how I felt about anything. Nobody asked what Zimbabwe was like, because they presumed they already knew better than I did. They understood above all that I needed to be reeducated.”

        - EXACTLY!! This is my experience, too. People keep getting annoyed with me because my stories about my experiences contradict what they read in some crappy book. I have actually been told that I understand nothing about my own country by a person who’d never even been there!

      • People have never really stopped trying to morally reform me because they believe I don’t really understand issues of racism properly, or because they believe I was born into unfair advantage. But, if you take a look at my father’s experiences, as he tells them to me, there was nothing particularly advantageous about his upbringing. One might say he had been set up for failure. That he didn’t completely fail was to his credit. I have encountered a lot of jealous and resentful attitudes among those who are uneducated and desire to have status, in Australia. They want to believe that colonial life has given me all sorts of unfair advantages, that were denied to them, for having to live “moral”, normal lives. The fact is, unless you love war, wildness and nature, you will not have obtained all that many “unfair advantages” due to being brought up as I was. Certainly, I wasn’t set up in life to have any particular economic advantages, not is you compare my life to that of the average Westerner of my same age group, who had access to more material valuables, was trained to believe they ought to have a career, and so on. I was quite literally brought up very wild. But, people prefer the image that I lazed around and had all sorts of delicacies bought to me — and consequently, they need to teach me a moral lesson.

      • “People have never really stopped trying to morally reform me because they believe I don’t really understand issues of racism properly, or because they believe I was born into unfair advantage.”

        - Oh God, this is uncanny! I keep hearing about my completely invented unfair advantages, too.

      • “Apparently, Australian school children had learned that Zimbabwe was South Africa. Perhaps the media also perpetuated this idea.”

        - Is it just carelessness or do the Australians have some political stake in this confusion?

      • They have a huge psychological stake in maintaining the confusion, because white Australia has a very fraught relationship with its Aboriginal population, so I presume it produces much psychological relief to be able to point the finger elsewhere and claim that somebody else is much worse and can with lessons on racism from some white Australians.

      • “They have a huge psychological stake in maintaining the confusion, because white Australia has a very fraught relationship with its Aboriginal population, so I presume it produces much psychological relief to be able to point the finger elsewhere and claim that somebody else is much worse and can with lessons on racism from some white Australians.”

        - Right. This explanation totally makes sense. They need a bugbear, somebody onto whom they will project their own feared essence. The good thing is that you understand what’s happening so you can work with it. I, on the other hand, still have no idea why so many North Americans go into fits when I tell them that life in the USSR was horrible.

      • It took me a very long time to understand it, but after I’d followed all their advice, and been through all of the processes of reform and nothing changed, this was the only explanation that made sense.

        As for why people want the USSR to represent something other than horrible — I’m sure it has to do with exactly the same as Australians’ interpretations of me. As a metaphysical proposition, one has to have “good” and “evil” in the world, otherwise raw reality is a bit too hard to take (for most people). So, they project their sense of “good” into the USSR and American capitalism then becomes “evil”. It’s all a mental trick to keep one feeling safe.

        Have you read Nietzsche’s definition of “ressentiment”? Same thing. It’s when people are obsessed with good and evil. They feel weird, or fearful or inadequate, so they look around for something they can define as “evil”. After they’ve purged all their fear and inadequacy into this “evil” thing, they get to define themselves as “good”. As in, perhaps, “I’m a potentially good citizen of a state like USSR, but as for the current reality, I feel inadequate for it.

        I’m not saying all people do this, but metaphysics (dividing things up into good and evil) is absolutely huge in Western culture, to the extent that I don’t think you can really understand Western culture apart from its weird metaphysics. People simply aren’t that interested in concrete fact. They’re interested in purging their unwanted parts. Australian culture, and from what I have seen, American culture too, is very concerned with purity. Traditional African culture isn’t so much. They don’t create meaningless metaphysical divides. You have to do something pretty wild to make them think you have some negative spiritual influence over you, but generally traditional African culture is very tolerant and … not so pure. I will write an anecdote for you in the next message.

      • “As a metaphysical proposition, one has to have “good” and “evil” in the world, otherwise raw reality is a bit too hard to take (for most people). So, they project their sense of “good” into the USSR and American capitalism then becomes “evil”. It’s all a mental trick to keep one feeling safe.”

        - This makes a lot of sense.

        “Same thing. It’s when people are obsessed with good and evil. They feel weird, or fearful or inadequate, so they look around for something they can define as “evil”. After they’ve purged all their fear and inadequacy into this “evil” thing, they get to define themselves as “good”. As in, perhaps, “I’m a potentially good citizen of a state like USSR, but as for the current reality, I feel inadequate for it.”

        - I need to think about this. It sounds like there might be a lot of important things one can discover going in this direction.

        ” People simply aren’t that interested in concrete fact. They’re interested in purging their unwanted parts.”

        - Oh yes. Reality is something most people find very annoying. It gets in the way of their fantasies about it.

      • Here’s a story I heard when I was in Zimbabwe. I am assured that this is a true story, and it has eye witnesses.

        There was a woman who got on a bus with a very large baby. It’s didn’t look like any normal baby, and the woman seemed very agitated. Suddenly, she asked someone to hold her baby for her and she ran and demanded the bus driver to stop. People started calling after her that she’d left her baby behind, but she ran off into the bush land without looking back.

        Those who were left holding the baby began to feel concerned that the baby’s diapers might need to be changed, so they had a look, and what they saw made them gasp in surprise — the baby had fully formed male genitals!

        At this point the other passengers finally understood what was going on. The “baby” was in fact a goblin, with an insatiable sex drive. Since the woman was tired of catering to the goblin’s sexual needs, she had ran away from it, hoping it would never catch up.

  5. “In a June 2011 interview, Walker described the United States and Israel as “terrorist organizations” stating “When you terrorize people, when you make them so afraid of you that they are just mentally and psychologically wounded for life — that’s terrorism.” ”

    Interestingly enough, I have not heard of her trying to prevent public consumption of her work in the US. I guess it’s easier to forego hypothetical profits in a small country, such as Israel. A cynic in me suspects that her book, translated into Hebrew, was not slated to be a bestseller.

  6. Is her book a good one? I heard of it, but haven’t read yet. Now I think I should follow her wishes and not to, especially since I doubt being mentally lazy helps to write a good book.

    the twisted spinster, why Pirate Bay? She refused to have the translation into Hebrew published, no? Library near my home has this book in English. Unlike FSU and current FSU countries, Israeli high school students get wonderful level of English at English lessons, more than enough to easily read books. (I talk about those who study 5 point level. You must study English to get high school diploma, but there’re 3 & 4 point levels too, according to one’s ability).

    • I mean Pirate Bay for downloading electronic copies of books that aren’t obtainable by other means (say, the author and/or publisher won’t release them in certain countries). That is, if people in Israel really have a burning need to read The Color Purple, which I can’t imagine is a top priority there. On the other hand, are you saying it’s already available in English and this big deal is just over the Hebrew translation? In that case, how stupid is she? Does she not know that Israelis are taught to speak and read English?

      In any case, this is an empty gesture, meant by Walker to show off her own political creds and get her points with people in her circle. Also to remind everyone that she is still “relevant.” That book was published ages ago. Hasn’t she written anything new or is she just not getting any attention for her later works.

  7. Yes, if you want to talk about “apartheid”, then of course there is apartheid in Cyprus too. And just at the point that South Africa was abandoning apartheid, it was eagerly adopted by the former Yugoslavia.

    Since Evita Bezuidenhout lost her job as Ambassador to the Independent Homeland of Bapetikosweti, perhaps they should send her as Ambassador to the Independent Homeland of Kosovo, yet another revenant of apartheid stalking the Balkans.

  8. Btw, what does the word “racist” mean? If it means only discrimination against people of another race, then it isn’t the correct term to use. Both Arabs and Jews belong to white race and even to sub-group (?) of Semitic peoples. Isn’t there a better word?

    Is it again Americans taking their own Black-White history of slavery and projecting it on other countries? Once a commentor on Feministe called Israeli Jews who emigrated (were exiled too) from Arab countries “Black people”. Never heard this term used in Israel. As I know, they define themselves as Jews, not Arabs or Black people. :)

    • I agree completely about this being projection of the US issues onto a different country. And it also strikes me as ridiculous when people call the problems between Arabs and Jews “racism.” It’s an example of extreme carelessness towards foreign affairs. Of course, simplifying the world in this cartoonish way is attractive to the intellectually lazy.

  9. BTW, I actually went and read the article. Wow, the author (who is white, I noticed) really fangirled all over Ms. Walker. No really she did everything but lick her feet. Ew. Also love the barely-veiled anti-semitism in the comments, the chesty tossing about of ill-understood political terms (using words like “apparatchik” as if they knew what they meant), etc.

  10. Yes, I think Walker is right when she implies that it’s because of her that a regime fell. Oh, wait. Why does she think doing this will in any way cause a protracted conflict to stop?

  11. Thanks for this. Honestly, as an Israeli, I’m all too willing to criticize Israel, but when I speak to American liberals (who comprise most of my friends) I usually end up having to defend it instead, because they start spewing garbage like this.

    • You are the second person I meet who says exactly this. They spent their entire life within Israel fighting for more progressive policies and against occupation, only to find themselves defending Israel abroad, because of all the misinformed criticism from people abroad.

      • Exactly. It’s my home, so I’m going to be critical of it, but I’m also going to be defensive when it’s vilified unfairly. If anyone would actually LISTEN to me when I talk about why Israelis are so overreactive and such, maybe they would develop some new opinions on what the situation on the ground actually is and why it still hasn’t been resolved. But no!

      • Part of the problem is that people don’t like complicated stories, with shades of grey. They like a villain against a good guy frames of reference. Then they side with the good guy thus feeling better about themselves and even a bit snug about their moral superiority.

      • This explains the pro-Israel folks, too. According to them, the Arabs and the Palestinians are just awful people end of story and you can’t argue with that.

  12. Pingback: Sunday Link Roundup | Brute Reason

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s