Here we have one more example of “intersectionalism” that, instead of dealing with combined oppressions, pits one marginalized group against another. This, of course, has fractured the Left in the last few years. There are two notable examples of how liberal values have collided. The first involves the collision between Muslims on the one hand, and feminists, Jews, and gays on the other. Since many Muslims and virtually all Muslim-majority countries oppress women and gays and often call for the killing of Jews, this pits sympathy for Muslims, seen as a “people of color”, against sympathy for women, Jews, and gays, also seen as marginalized groups.
The other is the collision between blacks and Jews, seen most prominently in the Women’s March fracas. Jews have long been oppressed (they’re the biggest victims of per capita hate crimes in the U.S.), while blacks of course are marginalized and have experienced a long history of segregation. But Jews are now seen as pawns of the hated state of Israel, and so have been demonized by the Women’s March organizers and by Black Lives Matter. I see this as a great shame, as African-Americans and Jews have often been allies, most notably in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
These conflicts have been resolved by a simple rule: favor the most pigmented groups—Muslims in the first case and blacks in the latter. In other words, it’s become largely okay on the Left to ignore the oppression of minority groups by Muslims, with that oppression justified by the Qur’an and its interpretations.
It’s also okay, at least for the Women’s March and their sympathizers, to ignore the fact that Women’s March leaders are great admirers of a homophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic bigot, Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam. I hasten to add that there are plenty of people who have called out the “bigotry of low expectations”, but there’s no denying that the Collision of Oppressions has not only enervated the Left (the Women’s March is no longer seen as a completely progressive movement, and other women’s marches are splintering off), but also made our side look fractious and sometimes ridiculous to centrists and those on the Right.
Now we have another collision—again between blacks and Jews. This involves Alice Walker, a beloved black writer who deservedly won both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for her book The Color Purple. She’s now been accused, justifiably, of not only promoting anti-Semitism but of being an anti-Semite herself.
This all started with this “By the Book” interview in the New York Times, in which Walker was asked to name and discuss the books she’s reading now. One of them caught people’s eye (click on screenshot):
Here’s the bit that ignited the controversy (my emphasis).
What books are on your nightstand?
“The Road of Lost Innocence,” by Somaly Mam, about child-selling, enslavement and sadistic “sex” trafficking in Cambodia. Bombed-out, psychologically traumatized Cambodia has become a place where even children are seen as commodities and treated worse than never terrorized or subjugated humans can imagine. Mam, a modern heroine who was once a captive herself, rises to protect and save those few young girls that she can. I couldn’t sleep after reading this book. I felt a duty to read it, however, and others like it, to know without forgetting, that for countries devastated by war, often wars “we” cause, or extend by carpet bombing or laying of land mines, the suffering, usually for the most vulnerable, never ends.
“And the Truth Shall Set You Free,” by David Icke. In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about. A curious person’s dream come true.
David Icke (pronounced “Ike”), as pointed out in lots of places, including the Tablet article below, as well as the Guardian and even HuffPo, is an antisemitic loon who also thinks that many world leaders are lizard aliens in disguise! (See his videos on the Secret Lizard Illuminati here and here.) As HuffPo noted:
Walker’s reference to Icke was first called out by Tablet Magazine, pointing out his book’s numerous anti-Semitic statements. Among those are claims that Jews are “programmed to see themselves as God’s ’chosen people’” and that they are to blame for the prejudice and oppression they have faced. He calls the Talmud “among the most appallingly racist documents on the planet.” Despite the evidence, he maintains he is not an anti-Semite.
Making a name for himself on his conspiracy preaching, Icke is a major proponent of the belief that lizard people control the world, a myth that began entering the news roughly 10 years ago. In 2015, Vox called his 1998 book, The Biggest Secret, “an important tome in lizard people theory.” In 2012, Icke spouted his theories in an extensive interview with Vice in which it was noted he’s convinced the moon is actually a hollow sphere used as a space station that manipulates the minds of the public.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected hate watch group, once wrote about Icke, describing his dangerous ideologies.
More than anyone else, the British conspiracist David Icke has popularized the Alien version of New World Order conspiracy. The former sportscaster’s elaborate theory is the Sgt. Peppers album-cover of the genre, featuring the Masons, the Vatican, the Illuminati, the House of Windsor — everyone is there. At the center of the theory is an alien race of lizard people from the fifth-dimension. Though Icke has always denied trafficking in anti-Semitism, he has endorsed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion — the famous forgery and foundational text of modern anti-Semitism — choosing to call it “The Illuminati Protocols.”
This is Barkun’s “refraction,” in action, and Icke’s shadow is long indeed, visible across the far right media spectrum.
Vox lays out more of Icke’s theories, and oy, are they meshugga! To wit:
- The world is run by a global elite of Illuminati, and the government, the British royal family, celebrities, and journalists are all in on it. “Behind this constant and coordinated centralization,” Icke writes in his 1999 book The Biggest Secret, referring to a centralization of world political and economic powers, “is a tribe of interbreeding bloodlines which can be traced back to the ancient Middle and Near East. They emerged from there to become the royalty, aristocracy, and priesthood of Europe before expanding all their powers across the world, largely through the ‘Great’ British Empire. This allowed the tribe to export its bloodlines to all the countries the British and European powers occupied, including the United States where they continue to run the show to this day.”
- The Illuminati are the descendants of a race of shape-shifting, blood-drinking, child-sacrificing alien lizard people. “In simple terms, there is a predator race which take a reptilian form,” Icke told Vice in 2012. “They’re feeding off humanity. They’re turning humanity into a slave race. They demand human sacrifice — that’s where Satanism comes in. They feed off human energy. They feed off the energy of children.”
- Many but not all of these evil lizard people are Jewish. Icke is fond of saying that the Rothschilds, a prominent wealthy Jewish family, are lizards. But he has also said that the British royal family the Windsors are too, and so is former President George W. Bush, neither of whom are Jewish.
- A series of cataclysmic earthquakes and floods will eventually cause New Zealand to disappear, and the moon is really a surveillance system set into place by the lizard people to watch us. Also, vaccines are the Illuminati trying to control us.
All those lizard-people are remarkably active for being ectotherms!
Icke is a loon, but the Times didn’t inquire further about Walker’s recommendation. It doesn’t usually go into the nature of author’s book recommendations, but this may be an exception. As we see below, both Vice and writer Roger Cohen certainly think so. Tablet writer Yaer Rosenberg characterizes And the Truth Shall Set you Free as “an unhinged anti-Semitic conspiracy tract written by one of Britain’s most notorious anti-Semites. It also endorses that old anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Tablet lays out more of Icke’s anti-Semitic writings. What’s funny is that, as Vox notes, “Icke maintains that he is not an anti-Semite, and that he is criticizing not real Jews, but 12-foot-tall alien lizard people, many of whom seem to be posing as Jews.” I can’t stop laughing when I read that sentence.
Read these two articles, the first from Tablet and the second from Vox (a Lefty site), to see the history of the Walker issue. It turns out that it’s not just the statement by Walker in NYT interview that got people’s hackles up, but, in something that was known to a few but now to many, Walker has not only endorsed Icke and his view for years, but published a palpably anti-Semitic poem about the Talmud, one that came from Walker perusing neo-Nazi websites.
From Vox (click on screenshot):
But what about Walker? Jewish media have been noting her anti-Semitism for years, but of course nobody listened. She’s been a long-time critic of Israel and supporter of Palestine, but of course one can argue that she’s got nothing against Jews, just against Israel. But then there’s her repeated endorsement of Icke on her own blog and her crazy poem, “It is our (frightful) duty to study the Talmud“, which she put on her website (the Talmud is a compilation of Jewish law.) That poem is long, and I won’t post it here, but Vox singles out some of the worst bits:
In 2017, Walker published a poem on her blog called “To Study the Talmud.” The Talmud is an extremely old book of Jewish law, very long and confusing and contradictory, and anti-Semites frequently quote it out of context in order to “prove” that Jews condone pedophilia and the murder of Christians. (For the record: They do not!) Walker’s poem follows in the same tradition.
In Walker’s poem, she describes turning to the Talmud to understand Israel, which she describes as “demonic / To the core,” and finding the very worst:
Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only
That, but to enjoy it?
Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?
Are young boys fair game for rape?
Must even the best of the Goyim (us, again) be killed?
Pause a moment and think what this could mean
Or already has meant
In our own lifetime.
Walker also advises her readers to supplement their reading of the Talmud with their own research. She means a specific kind of research, though: If her readers just look at Google, most of what they find will be “slanted, unfortunately.” Instead, she writes:
For a more in depth study
I recommend starting with YouTube. Simply follow the trail of “The
Talmud” as its poison belatedly winds its way
Into our collective consciousness.
We can’t know for sure what is going on in Walker’s mind, but it sure sounds like she is describing the process of her own radicalization here.
Have a look for yourself. After a while, the NYT couldn’t ignore the controversy any longer, and interviewed Pamela Paul, its own book-review editor, about why she didn’t dig further into Walker’s recommendation of Icke’s book:
One bit of the interview with Paul:
Do you ever ask follow-up questions?
Back when I was editing By the Book, the only time I went back for more questions was if the person didn’t answer enough to fill the page. The column is a Q. and A. about the subjects and their reading life, not simply a list of recommendations; it’s not a regular phone or in-person interview where you would follow up with questions about their answers.
We never question people on their choices by asking, “Why would you choose this book?” or “Why didn’t you like this book?” The people’s answers are a reflection of their opinions, tastes and judgment. As with any interview, their words tell us something about them.
The intention for By the Book is to be a portrait of someone through his or her reading life. What people choose to read or not read and what books they find to be influential or meaningful say a lot about who they are.
Did you consider going back to Ms. Walker to ask about Mr. Icke’s book?
No. When we interview anyone, whether it’s a public official or a foreign leader or an artist, The Times isn’t saying that we approve of the person’s views and actions. We’re saying we think the subject is worthy of interviewing; that’s our approach with By the Book.
One thing that I think makes By the Book distinctive is that we are not guiding people to answer questions in a way that reflects our views as editors. We’ve also faced criticism when a writer only named white authors, or male authors. My response to that is the same as in this case: Does that answer tell you something about the subject? I think it does, and now readers know it because we’ve informed you.
Just as a reporter wouldn’t direct a senator to answer a question differently, we don’t direct interviewees’ answers in By the Book.
Well, I see that a bit defensive and unsatisfactory, as did Vox writer Constance Grady, who said this:
. . . One of the most beloved writers and activists in the American letters recommended a writer of bigoted conspiracy theories to the public at large, after hiding her beliefs in plain sight for years, and she did so in the paper of record without any pushback.
As a result, Alice Walker’s acceptance of anti-Semitic beliefs has been exposed to a lot of people who previously had no idea she felt this way — which, as Paul pointed out, “is news.”
But she has also amplified David Icke’s message, and because the New York Times Book Review printed her recommendation uncritically in accordance with the policy of its By the Book column, the Times is complicit in that amplification as well. There’s every possibility that people who aren’t aware of Walker’s history or the nature of Icke’s work might seek out his book on the strength of Walker’s New York Times recommendation, and that they might potentially get drawn into Icke’s way of seeing the world.
I don’t share her worry, though perhaps it’s true that those who admire Walker might be exposed to Icke’s crazy theories and anti-Semitism from the recommendation. But hey, that’s freedom of speech. Still, the Times should have been a bit less defensive, and one senses that they’re protecting a beloved American writer, and protecting her not just because she’s beloved but because she’s black—the cognitive dissonance of the NYT.
Richard Cohen, an op-ed writer for the Washington Post, was more explicit in his condemnation of both Walker and the NYT’s exculpatory coverage. Click on the screenshot to read his bluntly-titled column:
Cohen doesn’t pull any punches:
Times readers howled. The paper should have flagged the book as an anti-Semitic tome, they insisted. The Times disagreed. It doesn’t do that sort of thing in its “By the Book” feature. In the Times’s response, the paper conceded that Icke “has been accused of anti-Semitism,” a bit like conceding that David Duke has been accused of racism. Walker, who last year posted the poem “It Is Our (Frightful) Duty To Study The Talmud” on her blog, is beyond mere accusation. She’s the genuine anti-Semitic article.
. . . In its response, the book review editor, Pamela Paul, submitted to some questions, one of which was why the Times did not ask Walker to account for her odd literary taste. “We never question people on their choices,” Paul said. A sentence later, she added, “The people’s answers are a reflection of their opinions, tastes and judgment.” In other words, anti-Semitism is just another opinion, taste or judgment.
Paul went on in that vein, saying that the Review has been down this road before. “We’ve also faced criticism when a writer only named white authors, or male authors. My response to that is the same as in this case: Does that answer tell you something about the subject? I think it does.” But it doesn’t. For some reason, my book group — wearily stuck on Jon Meacham, Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin — never got around to the Icke book. So, not having heard of Icke, I didn’t know that I was being informed that Walker cuddled up nightly with the rantings of a Jew hater.
. . .In interviewing itself, the Times neglected to ask the Times (Paul) if it even knew that Walker was an anti-Semite. It might also have wondered if that might have caused the Times to feature someone else. After all, anti-Semitism has become something of a common leftist tic, especially among Israel haters, and has even polluted the leadership of the Women’s March. Walker is in that category. She will not even allow “The Color Purple” to be published in Hebrew.
The tone of Paul’s response is appalling. She surely does not mean to, but she manages to treat anti-Semitism as just another point of view — not a hatred with a unique and appalling pedigree that has led to unending slaughter, including the murder of 6 million, pogroms in Kielce in Poland (1946), York in England (1190) and the lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia (1915). What’s lacking from the Times is appropriate shock at Alice Walker’s bigotry and its own refusal to admit a mistake. An apology would be fit to print.
Cohen’s piece is remarkable in that it represents a respected and liberal columnist of one of the U.S.’s two greatest papers criticizing the editorial policy of the other paper.
To be fair to Walker, she’s spoken up in her own defense, also published in the New York Times:
In a statement addressing the widespread outrage over her praise for a book with anti-Jewish overtones, the novelist Alice Walker called its author “brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask” and denied that he was anti-Semitic.
The remarks, published on her website, came several days after a New York Times interview in which she called “And the Truth Will Set You Free,” by David Icke, “a curious person’s dream come true.” Jewish groups and many others condemned Ms. Walker for supporting the book and The Times for publishing the interview.
Ms. Walker, author of the acclaimed novel “The Color Purple,” did not back down in her statement, saying that the book was not anti-Semitic.
“I do believe he is brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask, and to speak his own understanding of the truth wherever it might lead,” she wrote.
. . . In the book, Mr. Icke draws on ideas from the anti-Semitic pamphlet “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” argues that Holocaust denial should be taught in schools and that Jews are responsible for organizing anti-Semitic attacks, and calls the Talmud a racist document. In other writings, he has posited that a cabal of a child-sacrificing, bloodthirsty lizard people, many of whom are Jewish, are secretly running the world.
. . . Mr. Rosenberg [author of the Tablet article] and others have noted that Ms. Walker has espoused such ideas before, praising Mr. Icke’s books on her blog, in a BBC interview, and posting a video of one of his lectures on her website.
Critics also cited blatantly anti-Semitic language in her poetry, particularly one titled, “It Is Our (Frightful) Duty to Study the Talmud,” which includes the lines, “Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only/ That, but to enjoy it?”
So what’s the upshot? Is this a tempest in a teapot? I don’t think so: it’s emblematic of what happens when the American Left, which seeks to regain political power in two years, turns on itself because it can’t decide who is more oppressed. It’s also typical of the hypocrisy of much of the modern Left. If, for example, some right-wing American writer was asked what books she was reading, and the list included Mein Kampf or some modern anti-Semitic text, the Times would be all over her like ugly on a frog. But this is Alice Walker, a much admired black writer, and so the Times doesn’t bother to criticize her, and only writes about the controversy when its hand is forced. This is just what the paper did when the leaders of the Women’s March were accused—by Tablet again—of being anti-Semitic. By the way, don’t expect to see any discussion of this in the New Yorker!
The Women’s March leaders have defended their association with Louis Farrakhan because, they say, the Nation of Islam helps wean black kids off drugs and engages in prison counseling. And that’s true, but the Nation of Islam has also instilled anti-Semitism into many of its followers. Are Leftists going to pull the same ploy, ignoring Alice Walker’s anti-Semitism because she wrote some good books? True, they remain good books, and we shouldn’t denigrate them as works of art simply because their author hates Jews. But you can’t demonize white people for racism on even flimsier grounds while turning your head away from Walker’s anti-Semitism.