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Why Alice Walker Is Sailing to Gaza

American novelist’s defense raises questions about the imminent flotilla

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Alice Walker.(Flickr/Books LIVE)

Alice Walker dreams of classic civil disobedience. She quickly name-checks Gandhi as well as Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman in an essay explaining why she will participate in the flotilla set to disembark for Gaza in a few days. But there is something fishy about her essay that betrays her stated cause of universalism (“One child must never be set above another”). It begins when she weirdly isolates Schwerner and Goodman, the two young civil rights martyrs who happened to be Jews, from Cheney, who was black, and it culminates in the story’s concluding anecdote, in which she reports what inspired her ex-husband to be a civil rights activist:

He was a little boy on his way home from Yeshiva … He was frequently harassed by older boys from regular school, and one day two of these boys snatched his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran off with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.

Two black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the situation, and took off after the boys who had taken his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them, they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off the yarmulke, and place it respectfully back on his head.

Walker seems unaware of how easily she—a novelist, who should know better—allows everyone their standard roles: The meek, pious Jew taunted by the evil, brutish goyim and saved by the goodhearted and even more powerful Magical Negroes (“appeared!”). Walker’s daughter, Rebecca, who is famously estranged from her mother, has said that she felt “more of a political symbol … than a cherished daughter,” and one senses why. (I emailed Rebecca Walker asking for comment, and she referred me to this.) Regardless, a stereotype-laden fable, even if depicting a real event, is not a sufficient basis for a grown-up to adopt a cause. Does Walker’s objection to the blockade derive from liberal humanism or from a recoiling at Jewish power? Sadly, her essay suggests the latter.

A Gaza flotilla need not be condemnable. The reason it turned out horrifically and ineffectively last year was, first, that some in the flotilla did not come in peace and, second, that Israel unintelligently, perhaps provocatively put young soldiers in a position where they were compelled to act in self-defense, causing the tragic deaths of nine aboard the Mavi Marmara. But imagine a nonviolent flotilla as a classic act of civil disobedience, in which protesters perceive a law as unjust (in this case, the blockade); break that law in order to draw attention to its alleged injustice (run the blockade); and then face the legally prescribed consequences of the law-breaking (which in this case are probably quite mild, and certainly fall well, well short of death). This wouldn’t end the debate. Supporters of the blockade should be untroubled by the prospect of Israel enforcing it with precision and compassion.

That the IHH, the Turkish charity which led last year’s expedition (and has ties to Islamist terrorists and condemned Osama Bin Laden’s killing), will not be participating this year encourages the thought that Flotilla II will turn out the way true acts of civil disobedience are supposed to. So does the presence of New York Times and CNN reporters (a supporter of Israel like a Commentary blogger should want Western journalists aboard the boats; their footage will surely speak louder than any ostensible biases.) Ultimately, though, the flotilla will be most effective if, first, it strictly chooses nonviolence, and, second, if most aboard are more enlightened than Alice Walker.

Alice Walker: Why I’m Sailing to Gaza [CNN]
Earlier: This Year, the Flotilla Will Be Live-Blogged
Israel Bites the Bait

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I hope Israel has the brains to sink the damned ship this time.

Adam Holland says:

The link at the word “estranged” is broken.

Marc Tracy says:

@Adam thanks, fixed.
@Lisa um, no.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

MT’s underlying premise that Western reporters are inherently unbiased and cannot be manipulated is naive nonsense… at best. Organizations like CAMERA & HonestReporting.com & Just Journalism have been busy for years documenting their bias and / or incompetence, with both the allegedly august NY Times (“Valahalla” in the words of its new editor-in-chief) and CNN being among the worst offenders. Indeed even a Times sycophant like Jeffery Goldberg has finally begun to recognize that Times dispatches involving Israel may actually have “weird” distortions and / or inaccuracies.

Abu Mazen’s (a.k.a. Mahmoud Abbas) recent Times OpEd in which he brazenly re-wrote the events of 1947-49 (which even a terminally “progressive” MT criticized) is a good example of how Western news organizations are manipulated or allow themselves to be manipulated by any Arab or Palestinian so long as they are making Israel look bad. And the Arabs do this because they know they will get away with it. It’s simply not P.C. to question or raise doubts about their veracity. An analogous example is the recent decision by Yale to close their program studying antisemitism because some of the papers at the conference they were sponsoring dared to raise the issue of Muslim antisemitism. We don’t talk about such things.

The biased & Hezbollah-manipulated Western reporting of Israel’s 2nd Lebanese War was the subject of a detailed study by Marvin Kalb while at Harvard’s Kennedy School (now he is at GWU; for you young’uns he was once a star at both CBS & NBC news). A PDF of his report can be found here: http://web.hks.harvard.edu/publications/getFile.aspx?Id=248.

Not surprisingly the MSM media assiduously ignored Kalb’s report. However Anshel Pfeffer published a good summary in 2007 in the Jerusalem Post (which he left for Ha’aretz). The original link is dead, but the article can be found here: http://www.israel-palestina.info/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=475

hg

Efrata / Jerusalem

David S says:

Marc,

Alice Walker is an idiot. She has a history of attaching herself to fashionable causes such as this.

About a decade ago she was in a propaganda film for Fidel Castro, in which she went on about what a great dancer he is.

Just because she’s a decent writer doesn’t mean she can’t be just full of shit as of us.

I don’t think an analogy can be made between the civil rights struggle in the U.S. and the Palestinian conflict with Israel. For starters, as has been widely remarked on, even by progressives such as Gershom Gorenberg, the strategy of non-violence has been conspicuously absent from the Palestinians’ choice of tactics.

Second, African-Americans didn’t have relatives with quadrillions of dollars at their disposal and enormous political clout who might, if they so chose, have greatly relieved their suffering.

Thirdly, African-Americans didn’t repeatedly spurn offers of emancipation or, post civil-war, enfranchisement.

Shmuel Lifshitz says:

… some in the flotilla did not come in peace and that Israel unintelligently, perhaps provocatively put young soldiers in a position where they were compelled to act in self-defense, causing the tragic deaths of nine aboard the Mavi Marmara???
What would you suggest put old soldiers in front of the some in the flotlla that did not came in peace and leave them a free hand in killing them without self defense?

Beatrix says:

The only legal way to stop Hamas, a group dedicated to Israel’s destruction, from getting arms was for Israel to implement a blockade. This applies solely to the entry of weapons. Food and medical supplies are allowed in, and the UN says that Gazans are not being deprived.

In addition, Egypt’s crossing into Gaza is open.

How can a flotilla designed to humiliate Israel and prevent her from protecting herself be remotely considered a “civil rights” activity?

fred lapides says:

Though i do hope that the flotilla is stopped, nonetheless, I do not want it sunk so that many innocent dupes die.
For Alice to align herself with Ghandi is show her ignorance of his simplistic notions of peaceful protest. After all, he was dealing with the British, but when he later suggested that Jews being taken to gas chambers should have shown peaceful protests is just plain stupid….that was just what the nazis wanted.

As for Abbas op ed piece. The NY Times prints many op eds which distort truth. One reads such stuff and write a rebuttal or at least is wise enough to sort out fact from fiction. But that does not mean the paper ought to just allow pieces they (as owners, editors) agree with.

The flotilla will be stopped. I do hope though that some or all of those “peaceniks” are and dumped into Gaza, where they want to go, and then let Hamas decide what to do with them.

Indeed, have Alice spent a few months with Hamas and then see what she comes away chattering about. Their dance steps, maybe?

I suspect Walker is a big booster of Hamas. It’s in the character of extremists of any stripe to elide over even the most glaring contradictions in their dogma.

lazer says:

gut gezogt, marc

Ellen says:

Which other celebrities are flocking to this stupid flotilla? Media whoring, that’s all it is.

Andrew says:

This is quite a disturbing piece. I’m surprised that the Tablet would publish something so abhorrent, both in its racism (“Magical Negros” references?! Really?! I don’t think Walker makes any such insinuation) and in its disturbing personal attacks on Alice Walker. Very telling about the Tablet’s integrity as a publication. I’m sure Alice Walker’s relationship with her daughter is very relevant to her decision to join a humanitarian boat mission. Also interesting that she’d be attacked as some sort of anti-Semite while she was/is married to a Jewish man.

Wow… just disgraceful.

Andrew, the idea of the ‘magical negro’, like the idealization of any minority is that you’ve replaced one dehumanizing stereotype with another, albeit one that ascribes otherworldly virtue to the person or ethnic group in question rather than an innate defect. It may be well-meaning, but it is patronizing, and suggests that the author of the idealization has so little actual respect for the object of their fantasy that they have to endow that object with extraordinary traits, rather than portray them as the ordinary person that they are. Marc isn’t making a derogatory statement; he is criticizing one, even if it is one that has substituted an unwitting type of racism for a traditional, more easily recognizable kind.

I would add that the compulsion to portray a person or group in garishly laudatory terms may in fact reflect a need to try to compensate for one’s actual negative perceptions. And after I go to the grocery store, I might try to address the question of why Alice Walker’s family dynamics is relevant to the discussion.

This is the title of Rebecca Walker’s piece about her mother:

“How my mother’s fanatical views tore us apart”

Here are some excerpts:

“Ironically, my mother regards herself as a hugely maternal woman. Believing that women are suppressed, she has campaigned for their rights around the world and set up organisations to aid women abandoned in Africa – offering herself up as a mother figure.
But, while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities – after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.”

As a child, I was terribly confused, because while I was being fed a strong feminist message, I actually yearned for a traditional mother. My father’s second wife, Judy, was a loving, maternal homemaker with five children she doted on.
There was always food in the fridge and she did all the things my mother didn’t, such as attending their school events, taking endless photos and telling her children at every opportunity how wonderful they were.

My mother was the polar opposite. She never came to a single school event, she didn’t buy me any clothes, she didn’t even help me buy my first bra – a friend was paid to go shopping with me. If I needed help with homework I asked my boyfriend’s mother.
Moving between the two homes was terrible. At my father’s home I felt much more taken care of. But, if I told my mother that I’d had a good time with Judy, she’d look bereft – making me feel I was choosing this white, privileged woman above her. I was made to feel that I had to choose one set of ideals above the other.

A little more:

Devastated, I asked her to apologise and acknowledge how much she’d hurt me over the years with neglect, withholding affection and resenting me for things I had no control over – the fact that I am mixed-race, that I have a wealthy, white, professional father and that I was born at all.
But she wouldn’t back down. Instead, she wrote me a letter saying that our relationship had been inconsequential for years and that she was no longer interested in being my mother. She even signed the letter with her first name, rather than ‘Mom’.

That was a month before Tenzin’s birth in December 2004, and I have had no contact with my mother since. She didn’t even get in touch when he was rushed into the special care baby unit after he was born suffering breathing difficulties.

When I got into Yale – a huge achievement – she asked why on earth I wanted to be educated at such a male bastion. Whenever I published anything, she wanted to write her version – trying to eclipse mine. When I wrote my memoir, Black, White And Jewish, my mother insisted on publishing her version. She finds it impossible to step out of the limelight, which is extremely ironic in light of her view that all women are sisters and should support one another.
It’s been almost four years since I have had any contact with my mother, but it’s for the best – not only for my self-protection but for my son’s well-being. I’ve done all I can to be a loyal, loving daughter, but I can no longer have this poisonous relationship destroy my life.

In Rebecca Walker’s opinion, her mother resents her for being part-Jewish. Likewise, she resented the fact that her daughter got along with her father and stepmother.

Whatever her nominal reasons for participating in the Gaza Flotilla, the fact that Alice Walker elects to participate at a time when she might involve herself in any of a hundred other struggles where the casualties and suffering are considerably greater suggests, I would argue, that she harbors a kind of personal animus against Israel. And it’s just not a huge inferential leap to conclude that that hostility stems from a tortured relationship with her daughter and ex-husband.

You can disagree, but it’s not an unreasonable supposition, based on the evidence.

editrix says:

Andrew, I guess you’ll have to be disappointed with Wikipedia as well because there is a whole entry on the term “Magical Negroes” in it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_negro

It’s a standard sociological term. There’s nothing racist about discussing it.

It’s not unheard of that someone who has as intimate as being married to Jew to become troubled, if not hostile towards Jews in general or Israel in particular after the end of the marriage. We only have to look at the example of Amiri Baraka and his frequent forays into antisemitism since his divorce from Hettie Jones.

Or even during the marriage, to read the Benedikt/Awl essay.

I didn’t know that about Baraka. I was wondering why he was running around claiming Jews had advanced notice of the attack.

Meant to say the attack on 9/11.

Gary says:

So Israel has the right to defend itself by killing 1400 people during ‘Cast Lead’ and threatening to kill nonviolent human rights activists? Imperial arrogance of the first order. Viva Palestina.

To the contrary, Gary, Israel has the right to respond to 13,000 missiles lobbed indiscriminately at its citizens. Or would you prefer that Jews go passively to their deaths? Of course you would.

Make no mistake, friend, you’re the one on the side of the butchers.

Mr.S (StaffSgt, i wish!) says:

gimme a break
this whole pack of nambypamby pseudozionist cultists is
too soft on entities like gary and andrew
shoot them in the face with a teargas canister
harvest their organs
then run them over with a D9
then fill the airwaves with declarations of their utter depravity
that’s all anti-patriotic insects like them understand
and OhYeah drop politely-phrased Leave Now greetin cards,
followed in 5 by drone-fire packages on their families’ houses

Enrico says:

Gaza has a boarder with Egypt. There can be only one reason there is no protest regarding Egypt’s role, only Israel’s.

R Mayer says:

Dear Alice Walker
So you are not sending any food, clothing or shelter to Gazans, only letters of support.
Aside from the obvious, isn’t it better and cheaper just to mail the letters?

“I was wondering why [Amiri Baraka] was running around claiming Jews had advanced notice of the attack [on the World Trade Center.]”

He apparently got it off of a website affiliated with Hezbullah. As Hezbullah are Shi’ite fundamentalists allied with Iran, they are reluctant to give credit to al Qaeda, as they are Sunni fundamentalists so they blame the Jews instead.

L Rande says:

So where is the food and medicine that the people need?
Are they supposed to eat the letters?

ALICE WALKER IS A DISGRACEFUL MOTHER TO HER DAUGHTER REBECCA-without question she is selfish and selectively RACIST.What mother would knowingly allow her thirteen year old child to have unprotected sex and then let her arrange her own abortion-.Walker probably believes she is a black female Gandhi sailing on a ‘peace mission to GAZA- but in truth she is a political prostitute to Third World Totalitarianism,which she would not dream of living under.

There are three types of “human rights” activists who spen a significant amount of time criticizing Israel. 1) Ones who are Israelis, so it’s their country, just like America has the ACLU. 2) anti-Semites who bash Israel because bashing Jews openly is still frowned upon in most circles. 3) People like Alice Walker who are stunningly ignorant of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Genocide in Sudan (over 300k black Sudanese dead so far) along with mass rapes numbering in the millions. Displaced people in the millions (not displaced people and their descendants born in other countries). Actual slavery. Not kidding here. Tens to hundreds of thousands of people, not counting the ones sold in Libya as slave labor. Parents separated from young children when they are sold to different owners. mutilation when they refuse to convert to Islam. Rape. Worse conditions in many ways than the slavery America abolished in the Civil War. Oh, and if anyone wants to use the excuse that it’s ok when one ethnic group does it to their own people (which it isn’t), this is Muslim Arabs enslaving black, non-Muslim Africans.

Saudi Arabia: The penalty for converting from Islam to any other religion is death. Women are beaten by government forces if they go out in public without a male relative. They aren’t allowed to drive cars. They can’t vote, but neither can Saudi men.

Syria, more civilians (over 1200) killed than the total dead in Gaza (about 750 known members of terrorist organizations and about 400 people who were civilians or status unknown) in the 2008 war, and with less cause. Syria wasn’t having rockets fired at it.

Then there’s Pakistan, kidnapping, rape, forcible marriage and conversion of Christian girls. And about 100 other countries worse than Israel. Spending time complaining about Israel in this world is like spending all your time worrying about a scratch on your otherwise unblemished side mirror housing… of your mangled, totaled wreck of a car.

Just Sayin says:

“Also interesting that she’d be attacked as some sort of anti-Semite while she was/is married to a Jewish man.”

… and I’m sure some of her best friends are Jews. She’s an anti-Semite (and hate-filled misandrist) nevertheless.

Goldie says:

L Rande asks “Where is the food and medicine that the people need?”
There is no land blockade of Gaza and the border with Egypt is open.
The poverty in Gaza is not caused by Israel. The Palestinian Authority when they were in charge in Gaza received huge sums in aid from Europe and the Arab countries – much was lost in waste and corruption. Iran
today gives hundreds of millions in aid to Hamas – much of which goes for arms. As for medicine – after the previous flotilla, the BBC did
an investigation that revealed that about 2/3 of the medicine carried
on the Marmara was expired.

The flotilla is so obviously a anti-Israel, anti-semitic politcal ploy that it is beyond logic to believe that Gaza, with an open border with Egypt needs whatever supplies are on board. Maybe they should have brought medical supplies and food through their tunnels instead of rockets and other arms designed to kill Jews before the Egyptian border was opened. I wonder what is coming over now from the Egyptian side. Perhaps Alice hated her husband so much this is the way she has chosen to extract her revenge. Her devotion to the Gazans seems forced and quite absurd.

Beatrix says:

As Mr. S says in his smarmy, hate-filled, slimy post, we Jews are worse than the Nazis, and so anything goes.

Don’t you people realize that we’re talking Jews, here. Palestine had a right to try to take over Israel, which is Jewish, and Israel had no right to occupy Palestine after she won the war.

The Arab nations were right to gang up on Israel and try to destroy her after the UN legally established her as a nation. The Jews had no right to a nation and no right to beat people trying to destroy that nation. Hadn’t the world learned anything from the Nazis?

How dare Israel have a modern army with modern weapons (some of which she invented) and well-trained soldiers.

And the Palestinians don’t have to negotiate peace (as we can see). The liberal world in an excrescence of pity will take the self pitying Palestinians and hand them a Jew-free nation, preferably on land taken from Israel.

And if the Palestinians can get rid of Israel, slime balls like Mr. S won’t have to face a world where people he hates as much as the Jews aren’t always outdoing him. Of course he’d do much better if he stopped crawling around in the mud and learned to walk like a man (I wish).

greeneyeshade says:

If her daughter’s account is accurate, Alice Walker resembles William Saroyan, as described by his 2-times-ex-wife, Carol Matthau: “[B]ecause he had gone on record as loving humanity, he didn’t have to be nice to the people in his life.”

Lynne T says:

Booker prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson on Alice Walker:

“The boat on which Alice Walker will be traveling is called The Audacity of Hope. Forgive me for seeing a measure of self- importance in that reference. It will be carrying, Alice Walker tells us, “Letters expressing solidarity and love.” Not, presumably, for Israeli children. Perhaps it is thought that Israeli children are the recipients of enough love already. So what about solidarity? It is meant to sound innocuous. ‘That is all.’

Alice Walker makes plain, ‘its cargo will be carrying.’ But what will these letters of solidarity be expressing solidarity with? Solidarity is a political term implying commonality of interest or aspiration. So what interest or aspiration do Alice Walker and her fellow travelers share with the people of Gaza? A desire for freedom? Well we all aspire to that. A longing to live in peace?

If they have such a longing we must be solid with them in that too, though the firing of rockets from Gaza is not, on the face of it, an expression of such a longing. And what about the declared hostility of Hamas to the very existence of Israel? Hamas, we are often told, is the elected government of Gaza, a government that fairly represents the wishes of its people. In which case we must assume that Hamas’s implacable hostility towards Israel fairly represents the implacable hostility felt by the people of Gaza. Are Alice Walker’s letters of love and ‘solidarity’ solid with the people of Gaza in that hostility?”

While these great humanitarians queue up to support the people of Gaza, who are largely besieged not by Israel, but by their Islamist government, Gilad Shalit starts his 6th year under captivity by Hamas, which steadfastly denies the International Red Cross access to its prisoner.

If Alice Walker actually had a shred of humanity, she’d be embarassed by the flotilla.

Jerome says:

Alice Walker is there because she chose to side with the Palestinian Arabs and against the Jews.

Makes me feel bad. I had marched for civil rights in the 1960′s.

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Why Alice Walker Is Sailing to Gaza

American novelist’s defense raises questions about the imminent flotilla

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