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Author of 'The Color Purple' boycotts Israeli publisher's translation

Alice Walker, author of the award-winning novel ‘The Color Purple,’ has reportedly refused translation rights of her book to an Israeli publisher, citing Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ with policies worse than the treatment of blacks in the southern United States and South Africa.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel posted on its website a letter said to be from Walker, in which she notes:

I would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young, and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside. I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time.

Activism is a vital form of expression in a free society. It is a crucial form of checks-and-balances which keeps governments and institutions-of-power in-check. And on a personal note, I think it is important that individuals fight for a cause that is greater than their own.

That said, I have long opposed the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) Movement against Israel and actions like the ones supported by Walker. While I think it is commendable that those behind it – well, some of those behind it – truly believe such acts will help remedy the plight of the Palestinians, I think such moves are misguided and short-sighted at best, and worse yet, hypocritical.

>> Click here to read and participate as +972 bloggers debate Alice Walker and the cultural boycott >>

The Palestinian economy is dependent on the Israeli one, and thus a boycott of the latter will likely be detrimental on the former. Moreover, those calling for such one-sided action do so using electronic devices that were likely developed in Israel thanks to a culture here that encourages and promotes technological innovation. It is highly plausible that every computer, every iPad, every instant message and every web-post these activists – and even Walker herself – use to promote a boycott of Israel, ironically, is only possible thanks to some sort of Israeli contribution.

Author Alice Walker on-board the flotilla, June 2011 (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Author Alice Walker on-board the flotilla, June 2011 (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

And then comes the boycott of information. Or in this latest case, literature. Surely knowledge is power, and surely there should be some room for separation between various entities. Mixing culture with politics risks doing more damage to this fight for literary freedom.

In her letter, Walker notes her decision, in the past, to wait until after the end of South Africa’s apartheid to share the film with the likes of Winnie and Nelson Mandela. The film was directed in 1985 by Steven Spielberg, a well-known supporter of Israel and contributor to projects in this country. His cooperation with Walker is what helped her make millions of dollars, and indeed made her story all the more accessible to millions around the world.

DVD cover of the film "The Color Purple," directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Palestinian rights activists and author Alice Walker (flickr/cc: elycefeliz)

DVD cover of the film "The Color Purple," directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Palestinian rights activist and author Alice Walker (flickr/cc: elycefeliz)

But the bigger irony is that, for now, she is choosing to deny the Israeli public a book, in Hebrew, about the government-sanctioned legal exploitation of a subjugated, oppressed minority (in the United States). Surely, at a time like this, even Walker should realize the urgency in providing a book like that to Hebrew-reading Israelis.

If it is any consolation, most Israelis who want will likely just download a pirated version of the book or film, thanks again to technology developed here.


Update at 3:36pm — The title of this post was changed from “…boycotts Hebrew translation” to “…boycotts Israeli publisher’s translation” to reflect the difference between the two. Indeed, Walker’s letter to the publisher never mentions the Hebrew language, and the State of Israel and its private companies do not have a monopoly over the language. As pointed out by Ali Abunimah, Walker effectively copies the model of fellow author Noami Klein, who distinguishes between boycotting Israeli companies and boycotting Israelis.

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    1. caden

      Not only did the movie suck it inflicted Whoopi Goldberg on the world. She should do penitence for that alone.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lots of unfortunate special pleading here, based on premises that it’s difficult not to view as (unconscious, no doubt) racism. So what if Israel invented the wheel (and apparently owns Steven Spielberg too!)? That’s a reason why it can’t be boycotted. As for the “dependent economy” argument – c’mon, you Israeli leftwingers need to get out more. Did you not know the same argument was used to oppose the boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa?
      Also, Walker, from what I gather, is not denying Israelis the book. She’s denying an Israeli publisher the chance to exploit her book. No one’s stopping a non-Israeli publisher from translating it into Hebrew for Israelis to read.
      Boycotts are supposed to make the oppressor nation feel a pariah / uncomfortable, otherwise they don’t have a hope of working. Whingeing about it misses the point.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Tamar

      Alice Walker completely turned me off the past several years for self-righteously selecting supports/boycotts that suit her latest fads, and I’ve been boycotting her works since. She morphed into someone quite different from how she lived her early decades as an activist and courageous thinker from Eatonton, Georgia, USA. Marian Wright Edelman, by contrast, of the same generation and similarly hideous geo-political birthplace continues to lead, inspire, teach, change reality through grace, love, and genius.

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    4. Carter

      What Jonathan Cook said

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    5. Tamar, Alice Walker has been involved with the Palestinian cause for decades, ever since her marriage to a Jewish man in the early 1960s. To my knowledge, she published her first article on the issue thirty years ago, in 1982. It’s hardly a fad. The BDS call was issued in 2005, and she’s been behind it from its inception.
      Edelman is primarily a children’s welfare advocate, and few people would take issue with that – it’s the sort of activism that’s very easy to candy-coat. Everyone wants to say that they back the rights of children, even if they have little idea of what that means in practical terms. Alice Walker’s interest in justice for Palestinians is not so palatable and easy for everyone to digest, but this doesn’t make her any less courageous or thoughtful than she ever was.
      Roee, when I read your argument about the interdependence of the two economies, I was stunned. The West Bank and Gaza are captive markets for Israel. In arguing that an economic boycott would impede the trickle of crumbs from the master’s table, you are shifting blame from the occupation authorities for creating and maintaining that captive market to the BDS movement. This is not only unjust, it’s also patronising, considering that the BDS call was initiated by Palestinians who live in the Territories and understand their economic situation full well.
      It’s also irrelevant to the discussion, as the economic boycott is more a question of principle – unlike divestment, it’s unlikely to bite deep in practical terms, although it will have some effect. In the South African case, the cultural and sporting boycott had by far the greatest impact, and a similar pattern is emerging here – on 1 February last year the Education and Culture Committee of the Knesset actually had a special meeting on how to deal with cultural boycott, and the amount of time and money that has been lavished on the Brand Israel campaign (with its heavy focus on culture) demonstrates that this got the authorities on edge.
      “Mixing culture with politics risks doing more damage to this fight for literary freedom.”
      Culture and politics just aren’t separable. Look at the themes that ‘The Color Purple’ deals with. Didn’t Walker already thoroughly mix politics with culture just by writing the thing? And why is it classed as political to take part in a cultural boycott…but not political to claim that culture is somehow removed from this sphere of human experience? This is what happened when China was given the Olympic Games in 2008 – there was an outcry over the choice, but the Olympic Committee kept insisting that sport shouldn’t be political, as though racing for gold and celebrating victory on the same soil that is home to some of the most vicious torture-prisons on earth is not a political statement.
      “But the bigger irony is that, for now, she is choosing to deny the Israeli public a book, in Hebrew, about the government-sanctioned legal exploitation of a subjugated, oppressed minority (in the United States). Surely, at a time like this…”
      My experience is that an Israeli who supports or is indifferent to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is not going to have a eureka moment from picking up ‘Color Purple’. They know what the American South was like, and they will hotly deny that Palestinian life is anything like it. When people like Alice Walker stands up and says that she is reminded of the segregation era when she visits Palestine, or when Desmond Tutu comments that being in East Jerusalem takes him back to Soweto, it must be that they are either anti-Semitic or they Just Don’t Understand™, they’ve changed for the worse, they’re not activists like they used to be…

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Sorry Alice Walker grew up in Jim Crow US; I live in ATL now and she should see how much things have changed. But I like what Tamar said, she is self-righteous and selective. Why doesn’t she care about Kurds, Timor Lestans, Tibetans, etc? For people like her, the only good Jews are dead Jews.

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    7. Ted

      Dear Roee,

      Not sure what has happened to your analytic capacities. As I remember, you were previously somewhat insightful. But on pinkwashing and now Alice Walker you seem to have run off the tracks, or turned into a hasbarist reciting tired, overused lines about Israeli computer technology, Steven Speilberg (he’s not Israeli) and launching false accusations against Alice Walker regarding Hebrew.

      Seems like either a) You’ve just woken up and started paying attention to BDS without learning anything about it or engaging anyone on it, and/or b) someone implanted a discarded, old Israeli hasbara computer chip in your brain.

      Please do some reading and discussing with colleagues about BDS so that in the future you sound less like a Standwithus talkback activist from 2008.


      Reply to Comment
      • @Ted,
        I’m pleased that you read +972 and I’m even more pleased that you read my columns.
        We at +972 are a group of individuals with different perspectives on lots of issues. We don’t all come from the same vantage point, and that is to the benefit of our readers.
        While I appreciate that you might not agree with my positions as posted in my last two articles, please note that there are others who do. Can’t please everyone, right?
        That in mind, I will strive to continue writing my honest assessments of the situation here, and hopefully you’ll find more things you enjoy reading.
        Best, Roee

        Reply to Comment
    8. Circarre

      Although Roee is entitled to his opinion, this makes me think of the general attitude of Israelis towards Palestinians and any group in a position of strength opposed to those who are oppressed, i.e. White afrikaners and Black South Africans under Apartheid.

      The State of Israel and its citizens don’t get to choose the methods that Palestinians use or call their supporters to use in such a social struggle. It seems typical for the group in the dominant position to believe that it gets to carve out all choices and opportunities, and take offence when the subjugated group does something different.

      Furthermore, the assumption that Palestinians don’t realise that the trickle down effects of the economy is orientalist and offensive. Palestinians have the highest proportion of phds in the Arab world, and many if those who are integral to the BDS movement are academics and business people. I think they probably get the effect of the economy will have on them and their people.

      “If it is any consolation, most Israelis who want will likely just download a pirated version of the book or film, thanks again to technology developed here.”

      Isn’t this the settlement attitude. If you don’t agree, just steal it?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Circarre

      oh, and Ben – Alice Walker’s ex-husband, Melvyn Leventhal is Jewish, as is their daughter Rebecca

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mitchell Cohen

      Suit herself. So my kids will have one less book to read. There are another wazillion books out there to read in Hebrew.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Jack

      Always interesting to note the israeli supporters statements, like:

      “purple colors sucked anyway”, “shes another brainwashed muslimlover”, “I have always hated her”.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ted

      Dear Roee,

      Thanks for your response. I’m suggesting you talk with your colleagues because even if you have different views on this, they might push you to at least some level of intellectual rigor in your arguments:

      1) As noted by Circarre above, Palestinian get to evaluate and make decisions about economic impacts of boycotts, not patronizing Israelis. Please refer to same sad arguments by white apartheid supporters in South Africa, Reagan administration, etc.. You embarrass yourself.

      2) Steven Spielberg is not Israeli. You are confusing Jews and Israelis.

      3) If Israel produced some computer parts and we may be using them then we are hypocrites if we are using anything Israeli while also calling for a boycott. Not really, no. Many Israelis and Israeli government are already (justifiably) panicked by BDS, a nascent movement, though no one is actively boycotting computers with Israeli parts. BDS is strategic. Focused, campaigns are being mounted against appropriate targets.

      4) Alice Walker does not oppose Hebrew, just complicit Israeli publishers who refuse to take a stand.

      As suggested, please advance beyond standwithus talking points to avoid future self-embarrassment.


      Reply to Comment
      • @Ted,
        Again, thank you for response. Personally, I’m a fan on dialogue and engagement (and not silence and boycotts).
        1) Yes, Palestinians can make their own evaluations, and so can I. Both have a valid place in a conversation.
        2) I never said Spielberg was Jewish. I said Spielberg is an activist supporter of Israel and contributor to Israeli organizations.
        3) I’m not sure anyone in Israel is “panicked” by the BDS. In fact, most people don’t even know it exists. The Israeli economy is doing very well, especially compared to the rest of the West, and even more so astonishingly compared to the other Mediterranean countries. I’m not sure BDS has had one spec of a dent! Sorry. Show me numbers and “panic” and I’ll reconsider.
        4) Okay. Fair enough. I pointed out as much at the bottom. It’s her right to do so, and it’s my right to criticize her methods.
        5) I’ve never read a single standwithus talking points, though I appreciate your assumption, and I’m not embarrassed whatsoever by my positions, though again, I appreciate your assumption. Positions develop, they change with times, they change with perspective, and at the moment, mine are what they are.
        To everyone else, I think it’s important to present different views in a conversations. +972 has a loyal readership. We’d be lazy if all day we just preached to our own choir. The feedback is important, and the criticisms and suggestions don’t bother me. Quite the contrary, they encourage me. So thanks…

        Reply to Comment
    13. Yoni Ra

      Circarre, neither her daughter or ex-husband will talk to her, they are estranged. Perhaps she is taking her resentment against her daughter and her ex-husband out on Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Gill Katz

      What a tragedy that Ms Walker has been led by the nose headfirst into the Anti Israel narrative.. I ache to host her on a trip to Israel.. let her see from THEIR perspective how the land lies.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Black

      Yes, you are so right, all Israelis have a “settlement attitude and we are all thieves … that is how we plan to take over the world. we also have small horns and a tail. but don’t tell anyone.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Richard Witty

      Underlying at least some of the advocacy for BDS is concern for actual Gazans, civilians, with the hope that their lives will improve.

      I agree with Roee that the method of isolation that a cultural boycott represents is the worst choice of dissent that I can imagine, as humanization of the other is what is most pressing. In contrast, a boycott allows for dismissal of the other.

      The most that boycott will achieve in changing Israeli hearts and minds, is to communicate dissatisfaction with the present, though with the feeling of a nudge, the squeeky gate, not the respected opinion.

      The downside is that if unconditional or accompanied by animosity on the part of solidarity (I can expect animosity from Gazans), that BDS will be seen as a continuation of the holocaust (ethnically based shunning, and specifically directed towards Jews), not all that different than the settlement expansion and things like home demolitions are understood as a continuation of the nakba by Palestinians.

      Better that we move to other themes, than salt on wounds, that shore of up the dehumanization of the other, rather than confront it.

      Reply to Comment
    17. ted

      Dear Roee,

      On the most glaring straightforward point, are you honestly unable to see why thoughtful readers are likely to discard as irrelevant your judgement about BDS’s economic impacts on Palestinians, since you are an Israeli American (I guess American as your bio says you split your time with the US), when Palestinians have evaluated their own situation, weighed the pros and cons and decided to call for a boycott?

      Roee: “The Palestinian economy is dependent on the Israeli one, and thus a boycott of the latter will likely be detrimental on the former.”

      You really don’t understand how the assertion that your opinion is of importance relative to that of Palestinians on economic impacts is paternalistic and patronizing? And are you really unaware of how your statement on economic impacts echoes those of white South Africans and apologists for apartheid in South Africa who were trying to combat the ANC call for a boycott?

      On the question of the impacts of BDS on Israelis, I think it’s not worth arguing over who is right or wrong. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of evidence of panic I can point to, including all the daily screaming headlines, editorials, talkbacks and mobilization by the Israeli gov’t and supporters of Israel to squelch and counter BDS.


      Reply to Comment
    18. Stewart

      I agree with those statements posted by Jonathan Cook, Ted, and the others with similar sentiments. I will add however, that this argument that the technologically more advanced Israeli population has contributed more good to the world than the poorer Palestinian (dirt farmer) is arrogant, self-serving and frankly dangerous. Technology did not bring the human race into this age as measured by the heavens and earth, but technology may prove to be our undoing. Don’t keep that Ipad to close to your head too long.

      Reply to Comment
    19. ya3cov

      Sorry Roee but the colonist has NO SAY in how the colonized can resist against the colonization of her homeland. Get over yourself.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Rafael

      Why should a Black writer want anything to do with a country that considers as a cancer people like her?

      Reply to Comment
    21. Rafael

      “those calling for such one-sided action do so using electronic devices that were likely developed in Israel thanks to a culture here that encourages and promotes technological innovation”
      Why does 972mag promote this sort of dumb jingoism? Israel’s “innovations” account for a very small fraction of the high-tech goods circulating in the world. Japan and South Korea and the US and Germany and China are **FAR** more important to the electronics industry — specially for non-military industry — than Israel will ever be.
      Once I saw a Youtube video claiming that basically every modern electronic good circulating in the world, including cellphones, were invented in Israel. I was shocked that there are people promoting such easily refutable propaganda, let alone people, I mean Israelis, even in the left like the author of this article, believing it. Israelis are indeed a jingoistic, parochial bunch; they’re worse than Americans. Get out of your country and go experience the world in first-hand, not through the lenses of the idiotic Israeli media.
      If you think Israeli industries are so important to the whole world, ask yourselves how come Israel — in contrast to ALL manufacturing powerhouses (Germany, China, South Korea, Japan, Scandinavia, and even Malaysia and Thailand) — has a huge current account deficit that it can only cover by means of FDI and foreign aid.

      Reply to Comment
    22. caden

      Or you can ask yourself where the Arabs would be if they hadn’t, through pure luck, manage to be siting on 25% of the worlds oil reserves. And the answer is nowhere.

      Reply to Comment
    23. ya3cov

      roee why won’t you post my comment? is it because i offended you by calling you a colonizer? 🙁

      Reply to Comment
      • @ya3cov, I don’t’ know what you are talking about. Both of your comments are on there. And for the record, I’m a little more thick-skinned than being offended by name-calling, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing, right? I would just be commenting anonymously!

        Reply to Comment
    24. Kolumn9

      The goal of BDS is to end Israel. This is entirely obvious from a cursory examination of their propaganda and ideological view of the conflict. Are boycotts legitimate towards that goal? Well, that presumes that the goal itself is somehow legitimate and that the discussion is only about the means. Ms. Walker can do what she wants with her books and I have some very graphic ideas about that, but when she does so in the pursuit of such a blatantly violent and aggressive goal it puts into question the basis of her moral stance on the issue.

      And no, her action for Palestinian rights in no way justifies pursuing policies in the interest of the wholly illegitimate goal of destroying Israel. Unless of course someone wants to make an argument that the fulfillment of Palestinian rights morally mandates the destruction of the state of Israel. But then again then they make such an argument openly rather than hiding behind cowardly arguments for the legitimacy of individual tactics or silly arguments based on ignoring the obvious repercussions of your demands. If you want to eliminate Israel stand up proudly and announce yourselves.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Black

      You got this one right. Boycotts are violent acts that do not contribute to the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis. The real goal behind BDS is the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. Not more, not less.

      By checking the organizations behind BDS, it seems that the majority of it are Palestinians or Muslim organizations. And I respect that in a way – since in the short run they will have the most to gain by the elimination of Israel (until the Hamas will take over and make it a Sharia state like in Gaza). Others are plain Antisemitic (yes there are many of you out there) which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just an excuse and “justification” to practice their hate. In a way I can respect them as well since at least they are getting some satisfaction from the boycotting (Jewish Independent state is probably their worst nightmare).

      The rest are just self richest westerners and/or self-hatred Jews and/or just it’s really “COOL-to-be-a-human-rights-activist-and-fight the-most-evil-country-in-the-world-Israel” type of guys. Those I do not respect. They are just ignorant.

      And the rest of you, which are not a part of the above groups but actually believe boycotting will improve the lives of the Israelis (good forbid) or the secular/progressive/liberal Palestinians … I would love to try you medications, it seems wicked!

      Reply to Comment
    26. Mark

      “The film was directed in 1985 by Steven Spielberg, a well-known supporter of Israel and contributor to projects in this country. His cooperation with Walker is what helped her make millions of dollars, and indeed made her story all the more accessible to millions around the world.”


      Are you somehow asserting that Ms. Walker owes it to Mr. Spielberg and thus to Israel, Judea, and Samaria to allow the translation of her book in this instance because Mr. Spielberg made Ms. Walker’s book into a movie?

      As I recall, Mr. Spielberg and the studio in question made far more money off of the movie in question than Ms. Walker.

      Do you believe that Ms. Walker is forever financially beholden to Mr. Spielberg and thus, to Mr. Spielberg’s causes, chief among them Israel, Judea, and Samaria?

      Reply to Comment
    27. Black

      Watch out dude(!) These guys above will call to boycott you eventually. You might not be “Human-Rights-Activists” enough for +972 … Afterwards, they will start to boycott one another … until “the last man standing” (I am betting it will be @RAFAEL) will have no one to boycott any more …

      Reply to Comment
    28. Ya3ov

      @Roee Because being a Zionist writer will really impact your career in a negative manner, right? Check your privilege at the door please.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Mark

      I don’t favor labeling, falsely in my opinion, Roee as some sort of colonizer or those who question him as extremely human rights activist in their nature. That’s just hasbara.

      I just found Roee’s contention, and perhaps I’m incorrect in my reading of it, that Ms. Walker somehow owes Israel, Judea, and Samaria something – in this case, the publication of her book in Hebrew – because Mr. Spielberg, a devout supporter of Israel, Judea, and Samaria and a pretty good movie maker, too, put Ms. Walker’s book on the Silver Screen and thus made her a lot of money, himself even more money, and the studio even more cash than both of them.

      Roee seems to be contending that Ms. Walker’s or, I presume, any other’s decisions of a political or social type should be based on the political or social positions of the person or persons who put money in their pocket or offshore bank account. Doesn’t read as very democratic to me. Maybe works in an oligarchy and I’m sure Avigdor Lieberman would adore it, but a democracy, last time I checked, is based upon one’s ability to choose for one’s self free of political, social, religious, financial, moral, familial, or favorite soccer teamial (if that’s a word) constrictions.

      Reply to Comment
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