Over the centuries, anti-Semitism has been many things — a religious conviction, an ideology, a national ethic, an unadorned expression of hate and, in more recent times, evidence of sturdy insanity. Now thanks to a New York Times interview with Alice Walker, it’s been reduced to merely a point of view. To cite the Times’s own motto, this interview was definitely not “news that’s fit to print.”
Walker, of course, is a highly praised novelist best known for “The Color Purple,” for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. Her renown is great, and it was no doubt on this basis that the Times interviewed her for its “By the Book” feature that runs in the Sunday Book Review. The trouble started with the first question.
“What books are on your nightstand?” the Times asked. The second book Walker named was “And the Truth Shall Set You Free” by the British conspiracy theorist David Icke. The book is so repellently anti-Semitic that Icke’s usual publisher wouldn’t touch it. Among other things, it endorses that hoary anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which blames evil Jews for much of the world’s ills. The book also suggests that schools ought to balance lessons on the Holocaust with some questioning whether it ever even happened, and it reveals that the world is run by a cabal of giant, shape-shifting lizards, many of whom just happen to be Jewish.
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. Apparently informed by her odd reading of the ancient Jewish text, Walker’s 2017 poem asked some questions: “Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews?” “Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse? Are young boys fair game for rape?”
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. My bad, I suppose.
“Our readers are intelligent and discerning,” Paul added. “We trust them to sift through something which someone says in an interview, whether it’s the president or a musician or a person accused of sexual harassment, and to judge for themselves: Do I agree with this person?” Sexual harassment? The Holocaust? I guess they’re both bad.
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.
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