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Alice Walker´s The Color Purple should be read in Israel (GUARDIAN UK COMMENT) Maya Sela 06/23/12)Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/22/alice-walker-color-purple-read-israel GUARDIAN UK GUARDIAN UK Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
By not allowing a new Hebrew edition, Alice Walker is preventing those who could learn from her powerful novel from reading it

Literature at its best should be a Trojan horse. Good authors don´t just tell us a story to pass the time in a pleasant way; he or she offers ideas that insinuate themselves into the reader´s mind, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes in the form of a tale that disguises its moral and cultural lessons. Books can provide readers a mirror in which they will see something they hadn´t seen before, and give them the opportunity of subsequently seeing themselves and their surroundings in a different light.

Alice Walker relinquished the possibility of becoming a literary Odysseus when she announced recently that she had declined the offer to publish a new Israeli edition of her classic novel The Color Purple. Walker explained her decision on the grounds that Israel is an apartheid state and added that she hoped the boycott would have an effect on civil society in Israel.

Let us set aside the proposition that Israel is an apartheid state, though to me this doesn´t seem an accurate definition. The background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not racial. It would have been enough to talk about the Israeli occupation: there is no need to bandy slogans around in order to strengthen the argument that the occupation must be ended.

But let us use Walker´s assumption that Israel is indeed an apartheid state. If South Africa was still under an apartheid regime, would it not be smarter to enable the people there, by as many means possible, to read what Walker has to say about racial discrimination?

Boycotting is easy. A herd of boycotters is a comfortable herd. Being anti-Israeli these days is fashionable. As a boycotter you join a popular crowd, and you´re safe in the knowledge you will get automatic applause from your intellectual and literary milieu. Clearly the issue of Israel/Palestine is important to Alice Walker, but she and others involved in the arts who are implementing a cultural boycott of Israel are accomplishing the opposite of what they believe in.

What is Walker achieving by preventing a new generation of Israelis – a translation was originally published in the 1980s – from reading The Color Purple in Hebrew ? What punishment does she, and all the boycotters of Israel, think they are meting out to us? To be plain, most Israelis don´t have any particular interest in Alice Walker, and her own boycott won´t make waves.

But the accumulation of boycotts does have an effect on Israeli life. By isolating them, boycotters create a renewed sense of unity and self-worth among Israelis, and greater antagonism and closedness to the outside world. In one sense, the boycotters are feeding the flames of a lingering sense of victimhood. Victimhood is one of those mental constructs that is hard for Israelis to rid themselves of – and therefore, one which the Israeli establishment itself nurtures because it is convenient.

Some people say that when a writer prevents publication of his or her book in Israel, or refuses to participate in literary festivals here, she or he is in fact punishing precisely those – in the centre and on the left, who are disproportionately represented in literary circles – who support peace and oppose the current government´s policy.

I´d like to suggest a different argument, using the example of the Trojan horse. I believe Alice Walker´s aspiration, and that of other major cultural figures, should be to have her books read precisely by those people with whose actions and beliefs she does not agree. Walker, of all people, who has confronted racism and written a powerful fictional critique of it, is preventing Israelis from being exposed to the very kind of literary work that is crucial for them to read.

Walker should want her books to appear not only in bookshops and on private bookshelves but on huge billboards along the highways in the state of Israel. For whose edification is she talking about racism and segregation? Is her aim only to preach to the converted, to the liberal masses of Scandinavia? It is precisely here in Israel that her voice needs to be heard, and in Hebrew.

Had Walker herself done more research, she would have certainly have found that the occupation is only one of our problems. Perhaps it´s the most acute of our problems, but the manifestations of racism in Israeli life are far more extensive than solely attitudes towards the Palestinians. The incarceration and deportation of African migrants living in Israel is an intense current issue here and it is eliciting unprecedented racism from Israelis, and not only from the mob in the streets but also in the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – and from senior government ministers, who have actively fanned the flames of race hatred.

Maybe this public and humiliating demonstration of primitive racism to the world is Israel´s punishment for the occupation. Something inside us is sick. The situation is disturbing as well as infuriating – but the way to fight it is to make your voice heard, not to be silent. In her decision not to have her book translated in Israel, Walker is choosing to keep silent, absenting herself from Israel´s crucial public discourse about racism and the occupation. This is a strange and disappointing choice for an activist writer such as her.

• Comments on this article are set to remain open for 24 hours from the time of publication but may be closed overnight (guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2012 06/23/12)


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