Last week, the Alice Walker antisemitism controversy shifted from the New York Times to the History News Network (HNN). This time, legendary novelist Walker and a historian stooge proved downright Trumpian in doubling-down on offensive insults and displaying a stunning inability to see how others see them. Walker’s Jew-hatred offended most historians responding at www.hnn.us.
Recently, the New York Times Book Review asked Alice Walker – who wrote The Color Purple – what she was reading. She recommended And the Truth Shall Set You Free by David Icke, a bing-bong book that blames the Mossad, the ADL, the Rothschilds and Henry Kissinger for spawning many of today’s evils, while claiming that “big-nosed” Jews’ bring antisemitism on themselves – “they expect it, they create it.”
When attacked, Walker endorsed Icke’s book more enthusiastically as “very important to humanity’s conversation.” Denying Icke’s antisemitism, she confirmed her own. An NYU historian, Robert Cohen, defended Walker in an appallingly superficial way on HNN. Ignoring decades of Walker’s Jew-baiting, Cohen described some incident in 1963, when she “took a courageous stand on behalf” of Howard Zinn a “Jewish teacher” who opposed racism.
Some readers blasted HNN for posting Cohen’s silly, idiosyncratic defense. I defended HNN, saying, let Cohen and Walker out themselves. Before writing my essay, I read Icke’s book and other Walker emissions, including her disgusting 2017 poem “To Study the Talmud.” Her rant labels Israeli “rule” over Palestinians as “demonic/To the core.” She wonders, “where to look/For the inspiration/For so much evil?”
Illustrating how anti-Zionism often battery-powers antisemitism, Walker finds “that part/of the puzzle that is missing,” the “root” of Israeli evil: naturally – “The Talmud” and “its poison.” She spits out the most notorious Jew-haters’ favorite Talmudic quotations wrenched out of context – which Icke also deployed.
My HNN essay condemned Walker’s PCB – politically correct bigotry – perfuming her Jew-hatred with love for Palestinians. I mocked Cohen’s argument, comparing it to excusing a sexual harasser today because he was nice to his girlfriend 55 years ago.
Apparently, I offended Walker and Cohen. Returning to HNN, Walker allowed Cohen to post another poem of hers, “Conscious Earthlings,” to exonerate her.
It did the opposite.
The poem uses the offensive Jew-hating term, “Zionist Nazis.” Offering basic training in bigotry, it essentializes and otherizes Jews, dividing an entire nation into bad Jews – Zionists – and “smart-ass” good Jews whom Walker likes – “It has always calmed me/to have them near.”
According to Cohen, Walker’s new poem “offers fierce criticism of Israel, yet… praises Jews who demonstrate solidarity on behalf of a world free of bigotry and share ‘the dream of one humanity… one United Tribe of Conscious Earthlings.’”
In short, Walker’s good Jews are those nice universalists who “leave race and culture and religion/Handed to us at birth behind.”
But how does Walker’s universalism tolerate Palestinian nationalism, feminism and African-American pride? Or are Jews the only ones commanded to abandon their identities – at the intersection?
Beyond proving how loving Palestinians often mutates into Jew-hatred, Walker’s viciousness and Cohen’s moral obtuseness expose central tics in far-Left discourse today.
Her bigotry reveals how perverse the discussions are about Jews, Israel, and Zionism – it’s open season among too many progressives who won’t tolerate such intolerance against others but stereotype wildly about “the Jews.”
While it’s legitimate to debate universalism versus particularism, equating an oppressed group with its cruelest killers is evil. Can you imagine calling a mean African-American boss an “overseer” or “plantation owner?” What about calling an abusive wife a “rapist?” I had to override my moral auto-correct even to write these terrible thoughts – which shows how Walker’s meanness replicates and infects like thought cancer cells.
Talk about a big lie. The Nazis pursued a race-based, master-race-oriented, strategy of genocide that shrank European Jewry from 9.5 million in 1933 to 3.5 million in 1950. Zionism is a rival nationalist movement to Palestinian nationalism – no Israeli laws define anyone by race, color or blood. Meanwhile, the Palestinian population grew from 1.1 million in 1947 to between six and seven million in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza today. Palestinian propagandists exaggerate those numbers at their convenience, sometimes overcounting how many have lived, sometimes, how many have died.
Walker and Cohen are free to criticize Israel or Zionism. But Nazifying all Zionists – who simply believe that the Jews are a people, with ties to their ancestral homeland, and have rights to establish a state on that homeland – is so ugly, so categorical, it indicts the abuser not the abused – and her academic enabler.
America is afflicted with a president who leads by abuse, polluting our politics by escalating rhetorically and demonizing those who dare disagree with him. It’s pathological: he cannot see how his vicious counterattacks usually prove his rivals’ points. Watching writers and academics mimic such misanthropy is depressing.
Cohen writes: “By reading the poem you can judge for yourself.” Absolutely! HNN’s editor, Rick Shenkman, cleverly entitled this indefensible defense: “In her own words.”
Fortunately, most HNN respondents judged for themselves: “Professor Cohen, you have proven the counterpoint, not your point,” one person wrote. Another added: “Was this SERIOUSLY an attempt to prove she ISN’T a Jew hater?”
Alice Walker damaged Alice Walker’s reputation in her own words, more than any critic could. Like the president she loathes, encased in the oh-you’re-so-wonderful celebrity bubble since the 1970s, she lost touch with reality. Meantime, Cohen seems equally imprisoned: in the loony Left’s Israel-can-do-no-right-but-we-its-critics-can-do-no-wrong bubble.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University,he is the author of 10 books on American History, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.