By Sam Sokol
(JTA) – Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alice Walker has come under intense criticism after endorsing a book by antisemitic conspiracy theorist David Icke.
In an interview with The New York Times Book Review, Walker – who is best known for her book The Color Purple, detailing the hardships of African-American women in the early part of the twentieth century – responded to a question about what she was currently reading by giving a shout-out to Icke’s self-published tome And the Truth Shall Set You Free.
“In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about. A curious person’s dream come true,” Walker said.
Yair Rosenberg, a columnist for the online Jewish magazine Tablet who first noted her recommendation, noted that Icke is infamous for his conspiracy theories regarding the Jews, as well as a secret cabal of lizard men who secretly control the world. In his book that was endorsed by Walker, Icke blames “Jewish members of the conspiracy” with deploying the Anti-Defamation League in order to stifle discussion about the Rothschild family’s alleged ties to the cabal. Icke claims that he is not implicating all Jews in the so-called plot, although Jews play a distinct and outsize role on nearly all of the book’s 476 pages.
Walker had previously lauded Icke’s books on more than one occasion and even went so far as to endorse one of his lecture tours. Aside from endorsing Icke, Walker has herself engaged in explicitly antisemitic behavior, posting a poem on her website in which she labled the Talmud a “poison” responsible for many of the world’s ills. The poem alleges that the Jewish legal compendium condones marriage and intercourse for children as young as three years old, the rape of young boys and the murder of gentiles.
Tablet also criticized the New York Times for presenting Walker’s recommendation without qualification. Her comments appeared in a recurring question-and-answer feature in which authors good-naturedly discuss their reading habits.
In response to Walker’s interview, the ADL tweeted that it was “deeply disappointed that @nytimes would print Alice Walker’s unqualified endorsement of a book by notorious antisemitic conspiracy theorist David Icke. We have asked editors to update the review w/ information about this author’s #antiSemitism.”
In response to the controversy, the Times issued a statement that the recurring feature in which Walker was cited was “an interview and portrait of a public person through the lens of books; it is not a list of recommendations from our editors. The subject’s answers are a reflection on that person’s personal tastes, opinions and judgments. As with any interview, the subject’s answers do not imply an endorsement by Times editors. Moreover, our editors do not offer background or weigh in on the books named in the By the Book column, whether the subject issues a positive or negative judgment on those books. Many people recommend books Times editors dislike, disdain or even abhor in the column.”
For his part, Icke seemed tickled by the endorsement, posting about Walker on his on his personal web page.
The controversy sparked social media discussion, and not just from the Jewish community, about why Walker remains in high esteem despite her repeated dabbling in antisemitism and conspiracy theories.
The African-American feminist critic Roxanne Gay noted on Twitter that “Alice Walker has been antisemitic for years. I talk about it at my events when I talk about how much I appreciate Possessing the Secret of Joy,” referring to an early novel by Walker.
Walker’s defenders said she is not antisemitic and is being singled out for her anti-Israel views. In 2012, Walker refused to authorize a Hebrew translation of The Color Purple, and has urged other artists to boycott what she calls Israel’s “apartheid.”
In response, Gay tweeted, “If some of you would do some basic reading you would know that Walker’s antisemitism has nothing to do with her critique of Zionism. I am not conflating these things. Read her blog, note the anti-Semitic writers she values, and Jesus Christ, face reality.”
Alice Walker responds
In a response on her website Thursday, Dec. 20, Alice Walker wrote that criticism of her endorsement of Icke’s antisemitic book is really no more than an attempt to silence her advocacy for Palestinians.
“I do not believe he is antisemitic or anti-Jewish,” Walker writes in her response. “I do believe he is brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask, and to speak his own understanding of the truth wherever it might lead. Many attempts have been made to censor and silence him.”
Walker also noted that she is a supporter of BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel.
“I believe the attempt to smear David Icke, and by association, me, is really an effort to dampen the effect of our speaking out in support of the people of Palestine,” she writes.
Walker also defended her habit of reading, or trying to read, books that are “extremely problematic,” a list she said includes the Koran, the Talmud, the Bible and Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf.
“I read everything. I even tried once to read Mein Kampf but found it too steeped in German history to make sense. It also seemed pedantic and boring,” she said. “But after hearing so much about it, I wanted to know what it said for myself.”
In addition to its explication of German history, Mein Kampf lays out Hitler’s thesis that the Jews are the “enemy race” of the German people.