Shhhh….. it is Christmas and we are supposed to set aside for at least this day all thoughts of religious strife, bigotry and—of course—antisemitism. Peace on earth, good will towards men (and presumably women). On the other hand, we need to be on the alert for those mainly Jewish shape-shifting lizards that walk among us—at least according to a book endorsed and defended by Pulitzer Prize winning author (“The Color Purple”) Alice Walker.
A furor arose when Walker was interviewed by The New York Times for its “By the Book” section. Since the interview was published, a great deal of ink has been spilled decrying the Times‘ decision to print the interview without comment—or print it at all. The short version is that Walker, asked what books she keeps by her bedside, mentioned an antisemitic tract by conspiracy theorist David Icke titled “And the Truth Shall Set You Free.” The book is both ridiculous and viciously antisemitic and it is clear that Icke is a raving lunatic. Among its assertions are that Jews funded the Holocaust, that the Holocaust may not have occurred, and that the world is run by a shadowy cabal of Lizard People, many of whom are–of course–Jewish and wish to turn all of humanity into slaves.
In less interesting times, the best response might be to ignore this patent lunacy, however profoundly infused with hatred, and however prominent the acolyte. But in the era of never-ending prevarications from the President, and a web-driven spawn of hateful conspiracy theories with real-world consequences, it is both impossible and irresponsible to shrug this off. That said, I think interviewing Walker for that section of the New York Times was appropriate and that not running the interview would be an affront to free speech.
One of the most dispiriting aspects of the Walker interview is that the book is only one of many that the author mentions having read—forever disabusing me of the notion that being well-read is a firm defense against madness and hatred. Walker defended herself and the book, contending that neither she nor Icke are antisemitic. An in-depth discussion was written by Vox.
This is not the only instance of patent antisemitism by Walker, who has published a poem, “It is Our Frightful Duty to Study the Talmud.” A short excerpt follows:
Simply follow the trail of “The
Talmud” as its poison belatedly winds its way
Into our collective consciousness
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 has meant
In our own lifetime.
The poem is primarily a critique of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians—and Walker’s defense of the poem is that charges of antisemitism are merely an attempt to silence such critics. But while there are, indeed, critics of Israel who are antisemitic, the majority are not. (I count myself among those—I hold duel Israeli-American citizenship and served in the Israeli infantry when I was in my late 20s.) There is an unfortunate tendency among the right-wing pro-Israel community to dismiss all critiques of Israeli policy as antisemitism, which is both unfair and dangerous. An op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes: “When the right-wing pro-Israel community completely writes off all pro-Palestinian advocates as ‘antisemites’ it cheapens the charge of antisemitism. That’s not only unfair — it’s actually dangerous for Jews.”
I long ago stopped being offended by casual antisemitism. But when a celebrated and beloved author, intellectual and activist proudly endorses such views, push back is not only reasonable but necessary. Incidents of antisemitism are on the rise, and the blood is barely dry from the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Ideas matter.