Hey Alice Walker, choke on this “soul danger”:
Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, has lately garnered more attention for her unhinged political views than for her writing. She has compared Fidel Castro to the Dalai Lama. She refused to allow her book “The Color Purple” to be translated into Hebrew. But perhaps nothing was more off-base—at least morally speaking—than the open letter Ms. Walker wrote in late May to singer-songwriter Alicia Keys. Ms. Walker, writing at the website of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, urged Ms. Keys to cancel a July 4 performance in Israel.
Ms. Walker wrote: “you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country.” The writer then compared the plight of the Palestinians to that of blacks in the American South prior to the civil-rights movement. “You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the U.S. South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people.”
The analogy is false: “Apartheid” is a more apt description for the systemic discrimination against women across the Arab world than the only democracy in the Middle East. But this comparison is also an insult to the courageous civil-rights activists who risked their lives in Birmingham, Montgomery and elsewhere in the South to attain full rights for black Americans.
What characterized the civil-rights movement was its strict adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence. Even when attacked with fire hoses and police dogs, civil-rights demonstrators courageously refused to retaliate.
The Palestinian leadership, by contrast, for decades has used violence whenever missile attacks or suicide bombers suit its aims. It is Israel that has shown an inclination to absorb punishment, though the country’s tolerance stretches only so far before it responds militarily to attacks.
The comparison that Ms. Walker and her comrades in the boycott-Israel movement make to the civil-rights movement is false in other ways. Unlike the American South decades ago, when local governments enacted laws and policies to prevent U.S. citizens from attaining full rights, Israel has tried repeatedly to reach an agreement with the Palestinians in the West Bank that would grant them sovereignty. In 2005, Israel even withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. We all know how that turned out.
Those civil-rights activists who participated in the movement of the 1950s and 1960s—as well as others who remember the era—owe it to that noble cause to speak out when Ms. Walker and others distort and misuse this period in American history to advance an anti-Israel agenda.
It also wouldn’t hurt to remind people like Ms. Walker that no less a civil-rights leader than Martin Luther King Jr. was a fierce supporter of Israel. Days before his assassination in 1968, he said that “Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.”
Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington in 1963, also believed in Israel’s cause. In the late 1960s, when some black activists began denouncing Zionism and Jews generally, Rustin cautioned against joining “in history’s oldest and most shameful witch hunt, anti-Semitism.”
This year, Birmingham is commemorating the 50th anniversary of a pivotal year for the civil-rights movement and for the history of our city. Those of us who live here are particularly obligated to combat the bogus analogy linking the Palestinians and the civil-rights movement—and to continually remind people that Israel remains America’s best friend in the Middle East.
Mr. Friedman is executive director of the Jewish Federation in Birmingham, Ala.
We’ve already covered this story, with the happy ending of Alicia Keys telling Alice Walker to shove her Pulitzer up her Guggenheim. (Oh wait, that’s what I said.) Alicia Keys is playing Israel.
What I want to know—what I have long wanted to know—is what happened to the alliance between blacks and Jews 50 years ago? How did “We Shall Overcome” lead to Hymietown and Freddie’s Fashion Mart? How did civil rights lead to “Sieg Heil!”
My first answer is Leftism happened. The infant state of Israel was the darling of the Left: a besieged minority rising against oppression to declare their sovereignty. It’s a liberal’s wet dream. But as the infant grew, it became gangly and unattractive in the eyes of the Left. The besieged “minority” became the Arab populace. Israel hadn’t changed—goodness knows the Arabs hadn’t—the Left had. Somehow, a violent, racist, savage, genocidal people—an invented people who christened themselves “Palestinians”—became the new darling of the Left. That’s no accident.
We know the Soviet Union was heavily invested in demonizing Israel—motivated by antisemitism as well as geopolitics. We also know that many on the American Left stayed happily in thrall to Soviet thinking, long past the Soviets themselves. (See Ted Kennedy’s treasonous letter to Yuri Andropov—ex-head of the KGB—offering to conspire against President Reagan.)
But that explains (and only partly so) hostility toward Israel. “Hymietown” was New York City, not Israel. And why not “Mickville” after its large Irish population, “Woptown” after its Italians, or “Spickland” after its Hispanics? One generation of black clergy—King, Rustin—embraced Israel and the Jews; the next—Jackson, Sharpton—treated them with scorn and abuse. That doesn’t happen because they were “duped” by the Commies.
And it doesn’t explain Condoleezza Rice’s—no Leftist she—shameful comparison of the Palestinians to blacks under Jim Crow. Something else is at work.
I don’t have it exactly figured out, and I’m not satisfied. It is certainly antisemitism, but that’s like blaming “bad humors”. We’re merely labeling something we don’t understand. Among blacks, among the Left, among the UN and most other international organizations, Israel has turned from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde—while doing nothing but defending itself in wars against hostile Arab neighbors and a continuous stream of terror from Arabs within. Time was, a girl like Rachel Corrie would have gone to Israel to live on a kibbutz. How did it come to be that she went to Gaza—Gaza!—to side with the Arabs who later repaid Israeli withdrawal with thousands of missiles and mortars, kidnappings and killings? I don’t get it.
Someone who rejected the very idea of the state of Israel from its foundation—someone like the Arabs themselves, at least those Arabs not living more freely in Israel than anywhere else—would at least be consistent in rejecting Israel today. Everyone else has some ‘splainin’ to do.
PS: Tel Aviv on the 4th of July. Alicia Keys gets it.