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A Future Fashioned from Small Acts

Alice Walker will not allow Hebrew translation of The Color Purple

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The Color Purple, a story focused on African-American women in the 1930s South, has been censored before. It is listed at #17 on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 by the American Library Association for “explicit content.” In 1985, Steven Spielberg, a nice Jewish boy and ostensible supporter of Israel, brought the story to life onscreen with Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Still, with roots of minority oppression, a subject with which most Jews identify, and so many other Jewish connections, author Alice Walker won’t let her book be translated into Hebrew for Israeli readers.

In a letter the Pulitzer-Prize winner sent to Yediot Books, which has been reprinted on the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel’s website with her permission, she thanked the publisher for their interest but stated that “it isn’t possible for me to permit this at this time.” She went on to write:

As you may know, last Fall in South Africa the Russell Tribunal on Palestine met and determined that Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.  The testimony we heard, both from Israelis and Palestinians (I was a jurist) was devastating.  I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse. Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than  what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long.

It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.

Ms. Walker also cited the example that she and Steven Spielberg chose to prevent the film version from being shared with the South African public until after apartheid in that country was deemed over by the BDS Movement.

Steven Spielberg, in fact, has decidedly different views on how art can influence society. As he said in this 2006 interview of the film Munich:

I do not claim to be providing a peace plan for the Middle East with my film. But is that a reason to leave it all to the great simplifiers? Jewish extremists and Palestinian extremists who to this day regard any form of negotiated solution in the Middle East as some kind of betrayal? Keep my mouth shut just to avoid trouble? I wanted to use the powerful medium of film to confront the audience very intimately with a subject with which they are normally familiar in an abstract sense at the most — or only from a biased point of view.

Would that Walker took such a view.

The letter tells its own story, and from the coverage it is receiving, is sparking an entirely new one. Walker signed the letter “in faith that a just future can be fashioned from small acts.” Regardless of one’s stance on Israel/Palestine, new ideas cannot be developed in a vacuum. Who is to say the publication of The Color Purple would not be the small act, the spark that ignited a new dialogue? Or whether the dialogue on the boycott was meant to serve as spark in its stead?

American Library Association Most Challenged Books By Decade

Walker Refuses to Authorize Hebrew Version of ‘The Color Purple’ [JTA]

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Her dissent is misguided. One only has to look at the US to know that the citizens of a country do not unanimously support the policies of its government, and so it goes in Israel. “Punishing” the Israeli government by refusing to allow a Hebrew translation will not make a spark at all, never mind a small one.

mattfromphilly says:

Let’s not kid ourselves in thinking that the publication of Ms. Walker’s book in Hebrew would have any kind of productive impact on the political situation in Israel-Palestine. Undoubtedly similar books and films are already available. Her choice to heed the boycott, however, has generated a controversy that, at the very least, promotes awareness of the situation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. She’s taken the more productive step, in my opinion.

The plain fact of the matter there is not an Israeli apartheid. I believe in developing a peaceful solution. In order to do that we cannot continue with ridiculous claims that need to be defended all the time instead of dealing with the real issues. In schools that I both studied in and taught in Israel there were Arab pupils. I even taught for a week in an Arab community. No things are far from being good enough but we need to address the real the real problems i.e.. Israeli expansionism done by a minority and Arab or Palestinian aggression. Boycotting is just full of lies about Israel, she is just promoting their case based on their lies.

dansblog says:

While the comparing Israel to apartheid-era South Africa is of course ludicrous, the anti-apartheid boycott movement and the anti-Israel boycott movement are in fact very similar:
1) Both movements bizarrely targeted one of the least objectionable nations in its region. While the state-enforced racial discrimination in South Africa was certainly grounds for condemnation, its supposed horrors paled by comparison with the wholesale, wanton ethnic slaughter that was being perpetrated all over Africa at the time by numerous brutal strongmen in countries like Ethiopia, the Central African Republic and Zaire.
2) Both movements, while masquerading as a purely moral crusade, were/are in fact simply one arm of a broader international anti-American leftist coalition. The “peace” movement of the 1980s, which advocated unilateral (American) disarmament and capitulation to the Soviet Union and its proxies, evolved into today’s “human rights” movement, which targets America and its allies while coddling third-world totalitarian dictators. (The Cold War-era human rights movement was actually much more balanced in its approach, routinely protesting political oppressors in both the pro-Soviet and pro-US camps.)
3) Both movements have been astoundingly callous towards the very people on behalf of whose rights they claim to fight. The anti-apartheid movement embraced and celebrated Robert Mugabe even as he was establishing a one-party dictatorship and slaughtering thousands of minority Ndebele in Zimbabwe. Today, in the name of preserving the Palestinians’ “right of return”, supporters of the boycott of Israel endorse the forcible confinement of Palestinian “refugees” to squalid camps throughout the region, where they are deprived of citizenship and other rights, rather than support their naturalization and integration into the countries or territories of their birth.
Many people today celebrate the anti-apartheid movement as some kind of ideal model for international activism. In fact, its motives and activities were highly questionable, and its results, while generally positive for the people of South Africa, were an unmitigated disaster for the people of Zimbabwe. Rather than a model, the anti-apartheid movement is a cautionary tale about the ignorant and cynical moral preening that underlies many international activist movements. Its similarities to today’s anti-Israel boycott movement should be taken not as a point of pride, but rather as a danger signal and a badge of shame.

simkhe says:

I don’t agree at all with Walker’s decision, but I do think it’s important to get the facts. right. She did not object to the work being translated into Hebrew per se, but to its being published by an Israeli publisher. She is responding to the Palestinian call for non-violent protest through BDS. You can agree or disagree with BDS as a strategy or tactic, object (as I do) to Walker’s overheated rhetoric, but everyone benefits from arguing on the basis of the facts and with some nuance and respect. I think it’s possible for an artist to make a principled decision in response to a Palestinian call for support of a non-violent protest; it does not mean that the artist thinks every Israeli is a war criminal. To compare to other, more hideous regimes is besides the point. If Syrian resisters call a cultural boycott, artists will choose to honor it (or not), but it’s not exactly a situation in which American artists are being published or produced regularly. And it’s not as if Alice Walker (or any other individual) personally came up with the idea to boycott; there is a boycott called by the Palestinian movement. Argue with it, reject it, ridicule it – -whatever. But understand what is actually going on here.

julis123 says:

If you want an insight into the type of person Alice Walker is read her daughter’s book.
As for Spielberg–he isn’t much better. There’s nothing worse than this liberal “extremists on both sides” blah blah blah. It is clear to any impartial observer that the Palestinian side has rejected several offers of statehood and that the leadership is interested solely in lining its pockets and accumulating power. If you’re a liberal Jew in NYC or Hollywood you’re not allowed to say things like that because it isn’t PC.
By the way 3 Palestinians were killed this week by the Lebanese army and a Palestinian baby was killed in Gaza by a Hamas missile that fell short of Israel. Where is the outcry? Why isn’t this front page news in the Western press?

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A Future Fashioned from Small Acts

Alice Walker will not allow Hebrew translation of The Color Purple

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