I want to comment on the discussion of Alice Walker and her conclusions about Judaism.
And I am linking to her poem in question that has been highly quoted.
This is not a defense nor an attack, but rather an attempt to understand what is happening, why, and what it means.
Like many of us, Walker has tried to understand the source of Israeli cruelty, violence, self-righteous racism, and supremacy ideology. She has risked her life for Palestinian liberation on the Flotilla, and has been in deep confrontation with the Israeli state for years. Being in that place is shocking, it reveals behaviors and beliefs of the Israeli state that are almost impossible to comprehend.
There are many different ways to think about why and how one group of people justify the domination and destruction of another- which is a global phenomenon. Religious and racial groups all over the world claim supremacy and use violence and genocide to destroy other human beings. Just as cliques, families, and communities, and even individuals often use whatever power they can amass to “destroy” (shun, exclude, trash) people who are different, think or feel differently, and whose presence disrupts the perpetrators’ self-concept as superior. In both scenarios most people are tragically and hypocritically bystanders.
The case of Israel stands out from many of these other on-going examples of extreme violence, cultural erasure and illegal cruelty because the perpetrators, who are Jewish, were profoundly victimized in recent memory along similar ideological lines – and contemporary extremist movements are increasingly blaming Jews. While Zionist ideology uses those brutal murderous events to justify repeating racial supremacy theory, apartheid, murder and erasure — other Jews who oppose the policies of the Israeli state see those very same events as evidence of why Occupation, Expulsion, Separation and murder are wrong and must be dismantled.
How some Jews – given our recent historical experience-could do these crimes is a question many people in the world struggle to understand. I know that I do.
Alice Walker, who has made profound contributions to American life – not only through her novel The Color Purple, but also through her rejuvenation of Zora Neale Hurston, is also an individual who subscribes to conspiracy theories and is inspired by that literature. And she has turned to those simplistic tropes for the answer to these legitimate complex questions.
Unfortunately she is grounding her understanding of Israeli brutality in Judaism itself, and her interpretation of the Talmud. And this, I believe is where she is being both simplistic, paranoid, and wrong – confusing religion itself with the Jewish religion.
I have always believed that heaven and hell take place on earth, and denying that leads us to indulgences of cruelty and justifications of brutality. In my view, all religions are basically ridiculous, while simultaneously offering some pathways to positive understanding. The idea of God or Gods literalized is where the problems start. Judaism as a religion is no more contradictory than any other religion and its holy books hold deep insights as well as extremely disturbing concepts.
By looking to the Jewish religion as the source of Israeli cruelty, Walker is making two significant errors. 1. Pathologizing Judaism itself, instead of the larger problem of religions in general and how they are used to justify supremacy ideology. and 2. Ascribing religion as the central motive for apartheid when many Jews who support the Zionist state are not religious, and many Jews who stand with Palestine are religious.
Of course it is disappointing and difficult that someone who does so much good has taken this direction, which is destructive and won’t help anything. But she is not alone. There are many intellectuals, politicians, artists, healers, creators and caretakers who are racist, anti-Arab, Islamaphobic, who draw faulty connections in their thinking- who we embrace everyday. Almost every Democratic candidate for president supports Israeli brutality in one way or another, as did Obama-who many of us would vote for again.
That Alice Walker has chosen conspiracy theory tools to address important questions discredits some of her thinking. But it does not discredit all of her thinking. Sometimes people who do good things also do bad things. And that can be disappointing, or devastating, but that is life and here we are. Most of us who fight hard fights stand in coalition with all kinds of people in all kinds of ways if we are committed to change – and this is always a struggle.