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On Alice Walker and cultural boycott: A debate

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. This post will be updated with additional opinions throughout the day. Readers are welcome to contribute their comments. 

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.


Roee Ruttenberg writes:

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 one’s 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-sightened at best, and worst yet, hypocritical.

…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 just like that to Hebrew-reading Israelis.

Read more from Roee here.

Noam Sheizaf: It’s an honest, moral form of activism

I don’t want to go into the BDS debate yet, but instead speak of this act alone. Activism is about using the tools you have to make the world better. It means questioning every choice you make in a political context, rather than just use elections, or an occasional petition, to voice your opinion. Alice Walker possesses the rights to the books she has written – why not use them for the most important cause in which she is engaged? One can question the effectiveness of her act, but not the moral legitimacy of it. It is similar to the cases of the musicians who refuse to perform in Israel. I have written my position on that here.

As for the notion that reading books will help the cause of justice more than denying them from readers – I think that’s a position that romanticizes the political reality. Literature is an industry. Literature is political. Recently, Israeli publishers lobbied for a Knesset bill to secure their margins of profit. If you benefit from the state, why not bear some responsibility for its actions?

Finally, a word about cultural boycotts. People hate them, and they are usually met with more anger and frustration than any other form of boycott. I think that the reason lies not in the the special value of music or literature, but in the fact that it’s the elites that consume most of those imported cultural products, and when you hurt the elite, they cry louder. But for this reason, it’s a more effective and even more moral form of boycott. Economic boycott hurt the poor first, in a way that could actually put their lives and well-being in danger. It’s unfair, because the poor are usually the last to influence policy. Cultural boycott targets the elites, and doesn’t kill anyone. So I think it’s actually fairer game and more effective than other forms of political sanctions.

From Mya Guarnieri:

It is not entirely clear whether Walker is objecting to having her book published in Hebrew or just by an Israeli publisher. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency suggests the former; Ali Abuminah argues that it is the latter.

If Walker is indeed boycotting the publication of her book in Hebrew, her move is misguided–and I say this as a BDSer who has signed letters asking artists not to come to Israel. If Walker is conflating Hebrew with Israel, she plays into the state’s hands, unintentionally legitimizing the state’s attempt to monopolize Jewish culture and Jewish symbols. Yes, Hebrew was revived by early Zionists but it is not the province of Zionists and Israel only. As I mentioned in an earlier article, David Vogel is an example of a non-Zionist who wrote in Hebrew.

Mapping Hebrew–the language historically associated with Jews–onto Israel and then boycotting the it will only fuel the government and right-wingers’ claims that the boycott is anti-Semitic, which it is not.

On the other hand, it could be that the JTA has twisted Walker’s words around to pander to readers who see any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic–falsely conflating a state that is home to a minority of the world’s Jewry with Judaism itself.

 From Lisa Goldman: 

Cultural boycott is applied to Israel in an interesting and rather capricious manner. Two summers ago, for example, Elvis Costello cancelled his concert for political reasons – ie, pressure from the international boycott movement; but his wife, famed jazz singer Diana Krall, performed in Israel less than two months later. Her concert was announced well in advance, but she was not pressured by the boycott movement to cancel. So in this respect I disagree with Noam Sheizaf’s contention that culture boycotts are fairer because they affect the elites, in contrast to economic boycotts that tend to affect the poor, who have less political influence. A jazz musician appeals more to elite tastes than a pop musician. Also, elites can travel abroad to visit museums or hear concerts. In some cases, being part of the elite means having access to an education that teaches fluency in English, so Hebrew translations of books are not necessary. But for a person who does not have access to money, an elite education or the privilege of travel, access to books in one’s native language is an essential means for intellectual development.

On an ethical level, I also have a problem with the concept of proprietary rights when it comes to translations. Of course I oppose violation of copyright or distributing unauthorized copies of anything in cases when this affects an artist’s earnings. But to deny someone the right to read one’s book or view one’s painting or listen to one’s music in order to make a political point seems very problematic from an ethical point of view. To be fair, this is not what Alice Walker proposes to do. In fact, her book was translated into Hebrew years ago. Yedioth Books requested her permission to publish a new translation; and it was this request that she refused, on political grounds. She seems to object to allowing an Israeli company the translation rights; I would hope / assume that if a non-Israeli company asked her permission to issue a new Hebrew translation, she would consent.

Dimi Reider responds:

Noam is quite right that activism consists of using the means at one’s disposal, but literary boycott constitutes the exact opposite – refusing to use one’s instruments as an artist; or, at the most charitable interpretation, abandoning the paintbrush, and the palette, and the surgeon’s lancet and using a clumsy softball bat instead. While it may seem defiant, literary boycott is an admission of surrender. It’s declaring to all and sundry that your words, and your art, and your analysis are powerless, and the only thing you can do with your book is to lock it up in a drawer, and then, paradoxically, vie for the boycotted person’s attention and try and to persuade them  they’re really missing out on something.

This is unlikely to have anywhere near the same effect as throwing the book out there and allowing people to actually be exposed to and challenged by the power of your words and of your craft. The boycott of a new Hebrew edition (and Hebrew language changes so rapidly new editions are essential keep a work of art accessible to new generations) won’t have the slightest effect on the occupation, or on the mindset of Israelis; not least because the ruling elites in Israel don’t care two figs about literature, or theater, or progressive music, or dissident humanities.  Allowing a new translation to be published can, by contrast, contribute to the process of turning a few from conformers to dissenters. I know it because nearly every major political change I underwent was accompanied by literature – I would never have felt the moral draw of the right of return if I hadn’t read Grapes of Wrath, for instance. It’s a small contribution – but a vital one, and certainly greater than a passing item in a newspaper telling Israelis there’s some book they’ll never get to read.

What’s worse, acts like these effectively mean serving the government of Israel monopoly and domination over the Hebrew culture on a silver platter, instead of wrestling this rich and fertile cultural ground out of its control.  It’s as if instead of the Soviet authorities banning George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Orwell himself announced he will not allow the publication of the book in the USSR, until the Soviet Union began to respect freedom of speech.

Yuval Ben-Ami suggests:

I support BDS as a non-violent means of effecting change, but Walker’s move is problematic, particularly because “The Color Purple” is an effective weapon against apartheid, which she chooses not to put in our hands. It is a book that raises awareness to questions of human rights and presents the horror that occurs when those are not preserved. The fewer such books we have in Hebrew, the more likely the new generation is to grow up thinking that occupation and apartheid are perfectly fine. None of the Israelis who think differently today would have reached that point of view if not for the encounter with great humanist works of art from the world at large. Instead of promoting important points through the use of her book, and providing them to readers who have no or little access to the English language, Walker offers a gift to Netanyahu and his ilk, who prefer that we don’t think.

This is the Catch 22 of cultural BDS: it is joined by artists who are aware, but these are the same artists who create awareness through their work. Imagine that Amnesty International refused to work in Israel because human rights are broken here, or that Walker had chosen not to publish “The Color Purple” in the first place, since the U.S. is still full of segregation, prejudice and injustice. Such scenarios would not have been much more ridiculous.

Noam Sheizaf: Answering Dimi Reider and Lisa Goldman

Lisa – Maybe pop music is consumed by masses, but international shows and other imported cultural products are still a matter of the middle class and the upper middle class. You won’t find many Arabs, or Sephardi Jews, for example, coming to Ramat Gan Stadium to see Dylan or Leonard Cohen, so the cultural boycott can be seen as a targeted boycott aimed at the political consensus. I think it might be even better than a settlement boycott, which plays into the hands of the right most of the time.

Dimi – There is little point in comparing Israel to the USSR or to any similar authoritarian regime. In those countries, the dictator oppressed his own people. The Israeli system is a one of a small sample of cases in which one national group has full rights and enjoys democracy, while most of the other group has none. Education – through literature or poetry or NGO projects – is therefore bound to fail: You don’t need to educate Israeli Jews to appreciate democracy and freedom because they enjoy it, and you don’t need to teach Palestinians about resisting oppression because they feel it first hand. Here one needs political action and activism to change the status quo.

Dahlia Scheindlin adds:

There’s no question in my mind about Alice Walker’s moral right to use the tactic of a boycott, as she interprets it. But is it effective?

I read The Color Purple when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget the opening lines, which were shocking to my young eyes; the book had an enormous impact on me, forcing me inside the unimaginable hardships other people suffered from the moment of birth, because of their station of birth. It helped provide me with vital context for what would later be called the ‘savage inequalities’ of the environment where I was raised. There could be no question which side of that equation I accidentally inhabited, and the book burned into my soul this realization: that the moral imperative for the privileged is to struggle for and with those who are not.

Together with other formative literature and events (the Rodney King riots, for example, created turmoil that I felt all over again when I learned of his death this week), this kind of learning made me into the person I am today.

So my heart hurts at the thought that Israelis will have less access to such an essential source of insight. I appreciated the creative solution Naomi Klein reached (which I learned of from Electronic Intifada) – she found a way to boycott an Israeli institution and/or the economy, while exposing the Israeli people to her work. Perhaps Walker could do something similar.

Instead, Walker implied that the timing is wrong: she would like to see her novel translated for a futuristic, post-conflict Israel, just as she sent the film The Color Purple to South Africa after the downfall of apartheid. I fear she will wait a very long time.

I cannot dispute Noam’s point that the tactic is legitimate – anything is better than violence. There’s no guarantee that reading the book will bring about the desired change. But it will definitely have a searing impact on any sensitive reader.

The heart-stopping documentary “Under African Skies” raises a similar question about Paul Simon’s decision to produce Graceland despite the boycott of South Africa at the time. The situations are very different – Simon engaged and supported the oppressed people in that case. The film is honest and offers no dogmatic answers. But in the case of masterpieces like Graceland and The Color Purple, I cannot help but believe that some works have timeless artistic, spiritual, soulful meaning, whose profound impact on our conscience now and forever is stronger than their use as a political tactic of the moment.

Haggai Matar comments:

I agree with most of what Noam has said, so I’ll join in from another angle. Many people blame the cultural boycott in general and this act of Walker’s in particular, saying that they are supposedly silencing dissent, diminishing rather than creating tools for dialog and leaving the discourse grounds free for the Israeli propaganda to play in by itself. Dimi said that “it’s declaring to all and sundry that your words, and your art, and your analysis are powerless”. But I find this to be absurd. How can you declare that words are powerless? The mere act of the declaration, the mere statement made by Walker and others like her, is a greater statement and a greater act of dialog than what we usually get from any other artist performing inIsrael or whose books are published here!

And this leads me to Yuval’s and Dahlia’s arguments. They say we need books like “The Color Purple” in order to help us open people’s hearts and minds and promote peace. But “The Color Purple” already came out in Israel some time ago. So did books by G.M. Coetzee, and books by Palestinian authors, and Israeli journalists and Israeli ex-soldiers. The bookshops are filled with political writings such as these, and have been for quite some time. The occupation has been with us for quite some time as well. Is another translation of “The Color Purple” going to change anything about the occupation? Probably not. But the turmoil created around the refusal to have it translated might actually help.

This is the whole point of the boycott movement – to encourage artists, who would otherwise simply write and perform, to make a stand. It may be a choice to boycott Israel altogether, or to visit both Israel and Palestinein an informal visit, or to go on a formal visit (crossing the BDS picket line) – but make statements against the occupation. Whereas once Israelis could go on without any notion of what their favorite artists think of their compliance with the apartheid – now they are forced to hear them, one of or another. And like the newspapers that printed empty, clean, white issues to protest censorship laws, so does the echoing denial of words by Alice Walker speaks volumes in itself. The rest is silence.

Larry Derfner writes: 

Since a boycott is a perfectly legitimate means, the question for me is whether the goal is justified, and if Walker wants to end the occupation and create two states of equal sovereignty – along the lines, say, of the Arab Peace Plan – then I think she’s doing the right thing. I wish there were a global boycott of Israel that put forth a genuine, equitable two-state solution – the kind that’s never been offered to the Palestinians – as its end point. Things would change fast. But if Walker’s end-point is a one-state solution, then I consider her boycott harmful. I don’t know what her goal is, but the tone of her letter struck me as being well-intentioned toward Israel, which is the opposite of the tone of every international BDS campaign I’ve ever come across.

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    1. From the horse’s mouth. Omar Barghouti wrote to his lists today:
      “Alice Walker did not authorize an ISRAELI version of her book because Israel is guilty of apartheid. This has absolutely nothing to do with Hebrew per se.”
      I think we can be sure that the JTA and the Israeli media missed the point, as they generally do with BDS.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      When authors choose a publisher (if they are so lucky to have multiple suitors), is that a boycott? If political considerations entered into the decision, is that private decision, or a boycott?

      What is the difference between Uri Avneri’s private boycott of Golani wines and Ahava beauty products, and Alice Walker’s conspicuous statements?

      Publicity, for the cause, and for the personal promotion as well.

      I guess you could make it into a big deal.

      Its her choice. Not that big a deal.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Several years ago she published a book “Overcoming Speechlessness” based on her visits to Rwanda and Gaza with CODEPINK.
      I’ve read every single book and essay she’s ever published and this book was a bit too much for me at times.
      She was making a bigger deal of the 2009 Gaza ___ (fill in the blank according to your politics) than the Rwandan genocide. She also had some problems with historic facts as the Israel’s history. The biggest problem was her inability to differentiate between Israeli govt. and citizens.
      I guess that in order to be a “wow” writer you need to be emotional and crazy, the downside is that even I, a huge fan, appreciate her a lot less these days for her uneducated opinions when it comes to this conflict.

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      I’ve never read her (sorry for being such an ignoramus), nor did I see Color Purple. I think she has the right to decide what to do with her work and if she decided that this is not the time, her personal decision should be respected. She doesn’t want to assume a didactic mantle? Fine. There are plenty of good books on prejudice and injustice that have been translated into Hebrew. How much have they changed what has gone wrong here?
      Paul Simon decided to go to ZA to do Graceland during the apartheid era. He was roundly criticized by the boycott people, his name was mud at some point. But by doing so he brought fame to amazing artists who would not have come to our notice and made an unaware public more interested in the apartheid issue.
      There’s no single template.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      I think Noam Sheizaf is right once again. (Is that guy ever wrong? Well, maybe sometimes, but not very often.) Boycott is a reasonable approach to a state whose very essence is, in your judgment, unjust. It’s not as if Israelis are going to read The Color Purple (a mediocre book, I read it) and then go out and tear down the, uh, apartheid wall. Her novel will be most effective as an instrument of boycott, not by being read.
      Soft boycotts like this are probably the best way to go. Hard boycotts would just cause Israelis to circle the wagons. Soft boycotts are directed not so much at the ostensible object (Israel), but at one’s peers. They’re a way of saying, “Cool people like me come out and say we don’t like Israel, and if you want to be cool, too, then you’ll come out and say you don’t like Israel either.” That’s the way to shape opinion.

      Reply to Comment
    6. LG

      Jonathan Cook is right. Alice Walker’s novel can be published by one of the other Hebrew speaking countries, such as . . . .

      Reply to Comment
    7. bounder

      @Mya Guarnieri: Isn’t assuming Walker could have a problem w/ Hebrew language underestimating a bit her intelligence?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Tahel Ilan

      I would think that of all people and considering her opinions, she would be the first person to push toward getting Israel’s to read exactly the kind of books she writes.
      Hypocrisy and shooting herself in the foot all in one.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Good point, LG. Now I understand. Israel is the Jewish state, which means a boycott of Israel is really against the Jews, which means all boycotters are anti-Semites. Down with the boycott!

      Reply to Comment
    10. LG

      Er no. It simply means that your logic only works in a world that currently doesn’t exist. As convincing arguments go it fails at the first hurdle.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Seymour Alexander

      ARTSCROLL could publish it in the US, they have no problem printing in ivrit. That would be a win/win solution.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Mihai-Robert Soran

      The whole story was made to be out of its real proportion by JTA and then Israelis:
      Alice Walker has notified Israeli publisher Yediot Books that she will not allow to publish a N E W new translation of the book.
      “The Color Purple” was ALREADY translated into Hebrew and PUBLISHED in Israel in 1984. !!!

      Ultra-Zionist storm in a glass water?

      Reply to Comment
    13. Mihai-Robert Soran

      To all Israelis:
      Do yourself a favor:
      Learn English

      Reply to Comment
    14. Mihai – As you can read in the post, we acknowledge that the book was already translated and that the issue is a new translation.

      Reply to Comment
    15. AYLA

      972Bloggers–I like this discussion. Feels like a live panel. Thanks.
      This morning, Palestinian Freedom Rides fb posted a sort of kudos to Alice Walker for her choice, and I responded with this: “Dear Alice Walker: As you well know, literature has the potential to open people’s hearts like nothing else. As an American Jew living in Israel with Israeli citizenship, I support you using your platform to raise awareness about Israeli injustice against Palestinians. However, I believe you are missing your biggest opportunity to affect actual change: having Israelis read The Color Purple.”
      I guess that puts me in line with Yuval and Dimi. To Noam, I would say, I’m not romanticizing the political situation; I’m romanticizing literature.
      It’s interesting to think of the ways in which not publishing your novel in Hebrew is and is not the same as being a musician who chooses not to tour, here. Feels very different to me, even though I experienced first-hand the ways in which Leonard Cohen used his concert to open hearts. I’d say that the difference is that Israelis can still access the music of musicians who don’t come here, but since the book has already been printed in Hebrew, that can’t be it, exactly. Still, I find the action deeply misguided, and for some reason, childish.

      Reply to Comment
    16. The right to copy or translate Alice Walker’s book belongs to her, and her alone.

      I think her response was gracious, and hopeful.

      As to the debate about whether or not a cultural boycott is acceptable – as long as texts in Arabic are censored at Israel’s borders and as long as Israel keeps an iron grip over the education of its Israeli citizens (not to mention depriving besieged Gaza of most of its access to culture, and keeping the Palestinians on the Occupied West Bank from much of _their_ access to cultural events) – I will shed no tears about the lack of access to an important book.
      Perhaps a few more such rebuffs will persuade Israel’s citizens government that their current default is not QUITE as comfortable as they like to think it is?

      I support BDS, not least because I think it shows the least horrific path from the current, terrible situation, to a livable, much-more-equitable one.

      Reply to Comment
    17. AYLA

      Dahlia, that’s a beautiful response.

      Reply to Comment
    18. The right to copy or translate Alice Walker’s book belongs to her, and her alone.
      I think her response was gracious, and hopeful.
      As to the debate about whether or not a cultural boycott is acceptable – as long as texts in Arabic are censored at Israel’s borders and as long as Israel keeps an iron grip over the education of its Israeli citizens (not to mention depriving besieged Gaza of most of its access to culture, and keeping the Palestinians on the Occupied West Bank from much of _their_ access to cultural events) – I will shed no tears about the lack of access to an important book.
      Perhaps a few more such rebuffs will persuade Israel’s citizens government that their current default is not QUITE as comfortable as they like to think it is?
      I support BDS, not least because I think it shows the least horrific path from the current, terrible situation, to a livable, much-more-equitable one.

      Reply to Comment
    19. caden

      I believe that 972 receives money from foreign NGO’s. If that is true then you should return said monies to its source. That would be the BDS way. If you don’t do that it means your honesty is totally deficient but you do excel in hypocrisy

      Reply to Comment
    20. Alexandra B

      @Dimi – actually, Leonard Cohen wanted to perform in Ramallah in 2009 and they didn’t want him.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Alexandra B

      Forgot to clarify – for political reasons, obviously.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Is this the real Jonathan Cook commenting here?

      “Disappearing Palestine – Israel’s experiments in human despair” what an apt title that encompasses Israel’s policies and what an excellent book, Jonathan. If I were a millionaire I would buy a million copies of it and distribute them free in the US so Americans would know what kind of criminality their state is supporting.

      Reply to Comment
    23. caden

      How about it Noam, Lisa, Mya, either your for BDS or your not. Either your honest, or your not. Give back the money. Or leave this isssue alone. That would be what people with honor would do.

      Reply to Comment
    24. ya3cov

      @Ayla, you are a colonist, and a colonist of the worst kind. you chose to use your privilege to settle in someone else’s home when they themselves can’t return, and you have the audacity to tell people to open THEIR hearts? shame on you.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Kolumn9

      To be blunt, this isn’t a boycott of Israeli policies or of the occupation. It is a boycott of Hebrew culture. Notice, that even for South Africa there was no boycott AFAIK of translations to Afrikaans. The underlying premise of such actions is that Hebrew and Israeli culture are illegitimate and poisoned and moves like cultural boycotts are meant to undermine the existence of the Israeli and Hebrew collectives. In other words, the boycott is an existential assault, not a policy criticism. It is a hammer focused on Israel, not a scalpel focused on any individual Israeli policy.

      Given Jewish history a common Israeli response to such boycotts will be to presume them to be a continuation of Jewish persecution rather than as displeasure with Israeli government policies. This is easily reinforced by comparing the treatment of Israel by such ‘intellectuals’ as Walker to their treatment of dozens of other countries and governments with objectively worse records and such comparisons will be made and they will be incredibly persuasive. The treatment of Israel’s case as ‘special’ really has few other viable explanations. More importantly, the boycott will not be able to achieve even its pretended goals of causing Israelis to question policy given that the motif of Jewish persecution is pretty damn dominant in Israeli Jewish society and boycotts just reinforces it and the corresponding policy options.

      Reply to Comment
    26. danaa

      Kudos to Alice Walker for taking a courageous and principled stand against injustice and inhumanity as embodied by Israel, the one and only hebrew speaking place in the world. I understand and support where she is coming from – and may many more walk in her footsteps.

      Personally I am way beyond cultural boycott as I long ago stopped reading any israeli books or attended any event by an israeli artist, orchestra or dance (am having a harder time boycotting movies but that’s another story). I am one original Hebrew speaker who has been boycotting the language itself for quite a long time. To me, it has become the language of oppression, injustice and racism and I find it hard, if not impossible, to separate the language from the horrors inflicted by those who speak it. That’s why I understand how some may not wish to hear Wagner even though it is unjust to the composer who never advocated anything like what the nazis ended up doing.

      For myself, years later, I n remember more the crudity of the hebrew language – as expressed in everyday speech – than its grandor, expressed in the living rooms of the culturally uplifted. There are not many sentiments I care to express in a language that has been so abused and whose speakers engaged in so much abuse. israel for me is a country that has soiled its own language just as it is soiling now anything that was ever grand and decent in Judaism. Unfortunately zionism is a golem that not only devours its practitioners but also history itself and even the means of expression through language.

      My abandoning Hebrew is a way of expressing my perception of a tragedy that has befallen a people. When I hear Hebrew now I hear the Yesha rabbis and Lieberman and the rest of the ruling cabinet of snickering malevolent pretenders. What authenticity there once was in the language has now evaporated and the words, when I hear them, sound dry and artificial, as if on life support. What was lively and colorful is now menacing and rough and edgy in a disturbing way, foreshadowing dark futures.

      That being said, The Color Purple has many passages for which Hebrew is a good match. The deep hard core of racism will find excellent expression in the language of the Bible which is full of passages reveling in atrocities from every direction – good when god orders them, bad when he/it didn’t. Hebrew is probably a good language for a book that struggles with the horrors of prejudice, racism, persecution and trauma. Hebrew is a curt languages in which hurt can be economically expressed.

      So color me ambivalent here – I made my own choice for the ultimate boycott and so it will stand, probably irreversibly. But something is always lost when we forgo expression – of anything in any language. And that is lamentable, but not nearly as tragic as the coming calamity threatening the palestinian people. It’s the least I can do for them.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Kolumn9

      Thanks Danaa! You have perfectly demonstrated the ideological basis for the cultural boycott of Israel. It is a rejection of collective Hebrew and Israeli culture in the interest of weakening it in order to gradually supplant it with something defined as less ‘poisoned’. It is an ideology that is offended by the continued existence of Israeli culture and its practical arm is aimed not at any individual Israeli policy but at the continuation of the Israeli collective.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Jonathan

      I think we need to be more specific considering her book was once before translated in Hebrew. We also need to ask if she would mind if her book was published in Hamas controlled Gaza or Fatah controlled West Bank. Maybe ask her how she feels about having it published in any one of the Arab speaking countries as well as Farsi. I don’t blame her if she specifically boycotted a supporter of the right wing ideology but if it is a general boycott of Israel because of a few, then she should generally boycott the surrounding region for the many. This should be considered as well as the fact that she and her daughter are “black” nationalists who call their own Semitic cousins whom they have never met, hicks and other names without having bothered to get to know them or where the term came from. People also seem to forget who Alice was married to, a man named Mel Leventhal who was working under Thurgood Marshal who has since gone corporate. Alice and her daughter are reactionary, full of resentment and very seldom in their books of life do they introspect on their own decisions. I know this well because I am one of the cousins, and “American Israeli” who they won’t communicate with, much like the rest of the relatives. Maybe one will read this and take it as a wake up call. Some of us aren’t taking this lying down and can present the problems in Israel with actual details, not rhetoric and hearsay.

      Reply to Comment
    29. I think Ayla, above, right that this discussion is one of the best 972 has had in that feedback attacks are absent and just about all views are stated well. Which means something must be wrong!
      I see no reason to take a position on everything. Scheindlin, above, notes Walker will have to wait “a very long time” to place a new translation in a post conflict Israel. All sides of this conflict exist in a self sustaining word industry with no side, as far as I can tell afar, expecting things to change at all soon. So we take events and press them into the industry. Events keep coming down, but I think the scrutiny 972 (for some, painfully) offers does have an effect at the margin. And I think that’s all you’re going to get. The Israeli polity will have to decide to change (I know, a polity doesn’t “decide”); all you can do is be there if it does; staying in “the being there if things change/move” is faith. I think of Walker’s choice as just one way to go; she could have allowed the translation, coming to Israel to press her views–another choice (assuming the State did not conflate her with Chomsky, shudder, and ban her for ten years, “because we can”). In this large conflict of small actions, either way makes a stand.
      I think the small actions being reported out of the Bank by Haggi to be objectively trivial yet of essential importance. All you have are trivials, but some will someday grow into more. Movements can over police themselves because they have nothing else, effectively, to do. I am much less concerned with Walker’s stance than what those young women in the Bank will do if some of their allies come to support them by throwing rocks. As Gandhi noted, your first opponents in nonviolent action are the people you love. There is nothing wrong with what Walker has done, but I think it not a future unfolding path.
      Lastly, I am not a KOLUMN9 fan, above, but his last comment should be heard well, methinks.

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    30. Danaa

      Kolumn9 – sorry to disappoint you but I doubt I demonstrated anything of the sort. I am one person with especially strong opinion who is especially disappointed in what israel has become. No need to confuse or conflate my opinions with the BDS movement in general, as i am way left of it. That this is so makes sense since I am the one who has been lied to and deprived of real history, a sense of real judaism and perhaps a few real heroes. Growing up in israel before there was TV or internets did that – a complete, unabridged brain washing. So yes, when you feel like you escape a cult (which is what zionism turned out to be, IMO, regardless of what others set to make it into once) you end up a b it annoyed, perhaps? no American jewish person or some recent immigrant to israel can understand that. And very few israelis can – unless they too take the fateful step of stepping outside the cult and actively doing self de-programming.

      Cults are like that – you are in or you are out. I happen to be out and am taking my own actions to right the wrongs that were committed – in my name – against others, but also against the more complete person I preferred to become.

      So, no, don’t generalize. I have yet to meet, for example, a palestinian who feels as strongly as I do about the whole zionist project. Bargoutti is a heck of a lot more nuanced, that’s for sure, as are the people at +972. rest assured that I am not anyone’s fellow travelers, so don’t hold any of my words against the reporters or bloggers here, or against Alice walker for that matter.

      Also, luckily for you, as I can’t claim too many on the road I am on – there’s just one genuine delegitmizer to worry about – me.

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    31. Mitchell Cohen

      @Danaa, using your logic, how can there be any German speakers left today?

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    32. AYLA

      Danaa, I’m really moved by your story. Thank you for sharing how you came to the place you’re in today. I respect it, as it is your own personal story. I also hope, for your sake, that some day you’re able to come to enough forgiveness to collect the pieces of your heritage and culture that may still be meaningful to you when you choose them yourself, in your own way. As you well know, too, the hebrew language can be found in most people’s history if they trace back far enough. Now is a blip. But it’s our blip. And it’s a pivotal time in history; we’re lucky to be here, now.

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    33. Danaa

      Mitchell Cohen – I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some Germans post WWII who did refuse to speak German again, assuming they had options – which most german citizens didn’t. they lived where they lived and no one was willing to take in some germans, unless they were jewish refugees. That’s the parallel, not some random Jewish person in the US, who hardly even mastered Hebrew. Certainly not as a first language. First you have to have something to relinquish, and second you have to be quick at mastering a new language – and adapt to new culture(s).

      And besides, there were many German-speaking refugees in early israel, certainly many more who spoke german as a second or third language who did refuse to speak it again.

      So you need to compare oranges to oranges.

      Also, please not what I said above – I did not mention this as a recommendation to anyone in particular. merely as an account of one personal struggle to escape the tribal/cultish mind-set. You know – many who got out of jewish Ghettos in the earlier 20th century quite refused to speak Yiddish. And that language – and the entire culture it came wrapped in – were totally squashed in Israel. So they knew a few things about boycotting languages too – quite well, I should think.

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    34. Richard Witty

      The relevance of post-trauma therapy.

      Danaa appears traumatized. His pain is deeply experienced, with no easy way to reconcile contradictions.

      My sense is that in Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, elsewhere, there are MANY that are also traumatized, but by very different stimulating events.

      Violence, especially repeated violence, leaves a traumatic imprint. Verbal violence, especially repeated verbal violence, leaves a traumatized impact.

      Psychologically, there are normal paths to the development of the unconscious, evidenced by choices that seem to be skew to reasoning or even conscious emotion.

      Some unconscious processes are normal and healthy, functioning without intervention.

      Other unconscious processes are imposed, things like intentionally conditioned responses (easy to see in a dog, less direct actually and obvious in people).

      The unconscious responses resulting from trauma are more profound. They are the complexes that lead a child that has been beaten repeatedly to irrational and dysfunctional behavior, impossible to rationally participate in an actual decision process, impossible to construct anything (a project, a life), for the mine-strewn framework of pain stimuli.

      The noise and constant demands of a threatening mutually aggressive modern commercial world, so many stimuli, yeilds widespread low-level traumatic response.

      Repeated bombing yeilds traumatic responses. Repeated hateful discourse yeilds traumaitic response.

      In that, the “defense” measures by Israel or by Hamas or by solidarity (when stated meanly, often), in fact yeild the OPPOSSITE of intended affects. Rather than shake-up the reasoning of the listener, they confirm the reasoning. They make the complexes more of a tight knot.

      When, the work that is needed is to heal the trauma, to make what was a random minefield into a mapped region (a mapped region is navigable confidently).

      “Trouble everywhere I go”.

      The irony is that the trouble is similar, in its aggression toward an other, whether defined by an Israeli right-wing (“them”), or a Palestinian solidarity right-wing (“them”), an Israeli left-wing (applying some “them”), or an American.

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    35. sh

      @Dahlia – “Simon engaged and supported the oppressed people in that case”.
      Walker surely believes she is engaging and supporting oppressed people by doing this, not neglecting – as Larry points out – to politely (rather than critically or aggressively) explain why. In the light of the fact that Color Purple was shown here, presumably with Hebrew subtitles, and that the book already exists in a previous Hebrew translation, I’m wondering what the fuss is about.
      @Larry – “Since a boycott is a perfectly legitimate means, the question for me is whether the goal is justified, and if Walker wants to end the occupation and create two states of equal sovereignty”
      Maybe there should be only one totally justified goal: ending the occupation full stop. Is the Israeli left really willing to countenance a continuation of acts such as turfing out already multiply-evicted Palestinian refugees from wherever they alight; incarcerating children, artists, students, footballers, bakers, teachers for months or even years without charges being filed? Are our young people to continue to be primed to bully, torture, maim and kill a captive population (sometimes just to raise morale) for two states a political class that purports to lead them no longer wants? You yourselves say that it’s clear that this government has no intention of creating an independent Palestine, let alone one with equal sovereignty. How long do you propose to accept all this plus some, because “the question is whether the goal is justified”?
      I have to confess I’ve long been past caring whether it’s one or two states. I don’t know what’s best, have no diplomas that would be useful to this discussion. Scraping one’s way through the hyperbole and the myth has been sufficiently time-consuming and difficult – see Danaa’s post for the dire effect that can have – not to need to pretend one knows. But I don’t see Israel being capable of a benign occupation that affords us the luxury of further time to decide what we want – on the assumption that this “we” is all citizens of the State of Israel. If equal rights are fundamental to everything, the occupation has to go no matter what replaces it and the first sign that this is on the agenda would have to be an immediate, complete freeze of both settlement and aggression everywhere, both within the State and in its dominions (which include Gaza), so that discussion about our future is conducted from positions of equality. I know the riposte will be that their leadership is split and untrustworthy, but if ours is less split, we can offer them more than their match in the untrustworthiness stakes.

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    36. Shaun

      I’m a little confused.
      Being born to English speaking parents in Israel, I was able to read and enjoy the color purple while in High school. My children will have the same opportunity as the book is available in at almost any book store in the country.
      What exactly has Walker achieved?
      As an aside, does anyone really know of someone who cannot read English but would buy a copy of the book in Hebrew?
      I ask this sincerely.

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    37. Kolumn9

      @Danaa, you are not a unique and beautiful snowflake. I don’t need to confuse or conflate your opinions with BDS. You are precisely the extreme version of the product that the ideology and narrative that drives BDS is meant to produce on a societal scale. That is, people so ashamed of their identity and culture that they renounce them fully to seek any other identity promoted by whoever is deemed a valid cultural arbiter. The Germans went through something similar as a society and it is one of the major reasons why they have been willing to spend tens of billions annually to subsidize the creation of an alternative European identity that they can adopt without shame. As for your call to me to avoid generalizing, is that really a valid criticism on an article about cultural boycotts?

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    38. Maya

      Yes Shaun, the answer to your question is yes. My entire family and many of my friends who were born to Hebrew speaking parents or to parents who spoke only Hebrew with them, would read Walker’s book in Hebrew (most of them prbably have read it already), but wouldn’t read it in English. They are not sufficiently fluent in English to enjoy reading a novel in this lanugage in their free time. You might be surprised that there is a population in Israel of no anglo-saxon affiliation, which nevertheless reads books.

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    39. Mitchell Cohen

      Maya is correct. Also, just because parents speak with their kids in English in the home does NOT mean they will be proficient in reading it. At the very least, even most kids from English speaking homes (but who were born and educated in Israel) will ALWAYS prefer reading a book in Hebrew if it is available in that language.

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    40. Mitchell Cohen

      @Danaa, I got the impression (from your previous post) that Hebrew was your mother tongue when you said you were an “original Hebrew speaker”.

      At any rate, my point is if you are going to associate Hebrew with being a language of “injustice, oppression, and racism” there are endless other languages that fit the bill: German, Russian, Arabic, even English, for that matter.

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    41. Shaun

      Now I am really confused Maya.
      You claim that you have family and friends who”…would read Walker’s book in Hebrew (most of them probably have read it already), but wouldn’t read it in English.”
      How could they have read the book in Hebrew if it is not yet available?

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    42. Maya

      @ Saun: The book had already been published in Hebrew, sometime in the 1980s. The talk now is about a new translation for a new Hebrew edition of the book. You can buy it used in Hebrew for 20 NIS.
      קריאה נעימה

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    43. Shaun

      Thanks will do.

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    44. aristeides

      What has Walker accomplished? Casting another beam of light on the Israeli apartheid that Zionist apologists try to keep hidden. A worthy deed in itself.

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    45. Jin Jirrie

      Re Lisa Goldman’s claim that Diana Krall “was not pressured by the boycott movement to cancel”. – in fact she was asked by many to respect the call of Palestinian people to boycott apartheid Israel and she ignored the call and maintained a complicit silence.

      People even attended her concert in London with banners to protest her intended performance in Israel.

      See http://www.facebook.com/groups/123536954352660/


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    46. Danaa

      AYLA – thanks – and you are right. When losing a language an entire history is mutilated right along with it. It is never a positive thing. It was just my way of recognizing tragedy – kind of like the priest (forgot his name now) who chose to join the deported Jews and perished in the Holocaust. Surely that’d seem as a pointless act to some – but on a larger spiritual dimension – given his religious belief – it’s the ultimate act of registering rage against inhumanity. My way does not in any way shape or form rise up to martyrdom, but when words I once rushed through without thinking now stand there like sentries, it reminds me every day of what humanity means to me. Some day I hope I can come in from the cold and a whole world, now cordoned off, will come rushing back in.

      Mitchell Cohen – you got it right the first time.My reference to Yiddish (a language I never spoke) was just an allusion to things I learnt later on – outside Israel. That an entire culture was disappeared in Israel and that it did have value – real value to those who lived and worked within it – and to countless others who appreciated its cultural offshoots. It was in America that I learnt a few Yiddish words just like any other Americans who liked say, Woody Allen movies. Had to look it up in a dictionary. But don’t worry, in israel like any other young person at the time, I throughly despised Yiddish as the language of the “galut”. Kids you know, refused to speak it itheir parents and made a concerted effort to know nothing about it. My parents did not speak it, but others’ did, and I am just amazed now at how willing we all were to forgo anything to do with a language and/or the history that came with it.

      Outside israel I also discovered that the Mizrahi culture – one I was acculturated to think of as throughly “inferior”, was also deliberately “disappeared” – in an attempt to erase anything “arabic” from the consciousness of the people. We know what that meant to the jewish people who were brought to israel from Arab speaking countries – supposedly for their safety and/or benfit. Their descendants in present day israel are still second class citizens and so they will remain for as long as a trace remains of their origins.

      My point was – Hebrew as a living symbol of zionism and the embodiment of it – was a marauding language. It sought to erase as much as to build. Something to think about, perhaps?

      Anyways, my apologies for going off on a personal trajectory. It was conjured up by two words “boycott and divestment”.

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    47. Adam

      Any reason why my comment wasn’t posted?

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    48. aristeides

      Danaa – “Marauding language” is a great phrase.

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    49. Kolumn9

      My my, the double standards are really flying today. What we have here is a wonderfully written opinion justifying the delegitimization of Hebrew and Israeli culture on the basis of longing for lost languages and cultures written in a European language that in itself could quite easily exemplify the concept of a marauding language. Though this is clearly not something worth thinking about.

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