Howard Jacobson on Alice Walker and her trip to Gaza

This piece by Howard Jacboson is from cnn.

It should not need arguing, this late in the ethical history of mankind, that good people can do great harm. One of the finest and funniest novels ever written — Don Quixote — charts the damage left in the wake of a man who would make the world a better place.

Human beings are seldom more dangerous than when they are sentimentally overcome by the goodness of their own intentions. That Alice Walker believes it is right to join the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza I do not have the slightest doubt. But beyond associating her decision with Gandhi, Martin Luther King and very nearly, when she talks about the preciousness of children, Jesus Christ, she fails to give a single convincing reason for it.

“One child must never be set above another child,” she says. A sentiment that will find an echo in every heart. But how does it justify the flotilla? Gaza is under siege, Israelis will tell you, because weapons are fired from it into Israel, threatening the lives of Israeli children. If the blockade is lifted there is a fear that more lethal and far-reaching weapons will be acquired, and the lives of more Israeli children endangered.

You may want to argue that had Gaza been treated differently it would have responded differently, but if the aim of the flotilla is to ensure that one child will not be set above another it is hard to see how challenging the blockade will achieve it. All an Israeli parent will see is a highly charged emotionalism disguising an action that, by its very partiality, chooses the Palestinian child over the Israeli.

The boat on which Alice Walker will be traveling is called The Audacity of Hope. Forgive me for seeing a measure of self- importance in that reference. It will be carrying, Alice Walker tells us, “Letters expressing solidarity and love.” Not, presumably, for Israeli children. Perhaps it is thought that Israeli children are the recipients of enough love already. So what about solidarity? It is meant to sound innocuous. “That is all.”

Alice Walker makes plain, “its cargo will be carrying.” But what will these letters of solidarity be expressing solidarity with? Solidarity is a political term implying commonality of interest or aspiration. So what interest or aspiration do Alice Walker and her fellow travelers share with the people of Gaza? A desire for freedom? Well we all aspire to that. A longing to live in peace?

If they have such a longing we must be solid with them in that too, though the firing of rockets from Gaza is not, on the face of it, an expression of such a longing. And what about the declared hostility of Hamas to the very existence of Israel? Hamas, we are often told, is the elected government of Gaza, a government that fairly represents the wishes of its people. In which case we must assume that Hamas’s implacable hostility towards Israel fairly represents the implacable hostility felt by the people of Gaza. Are Alice Walker’s letters of love and ‘solidarity’ solid with the people of Gaza in that hostility?

Alice Walker, writer of 'The Colour Purple'

“If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman,” she says. Wrong on a thousand counts. As a writer, Alice Walker must understand the symbolic significance of words. The cargo is a cargo of intention. It is freighted with political sympathy and attitude. It means to blunder into where it isn’t safe, clothed in the make-believe garments of the unworldly, speaking of children and speaking like children, half inviting a violence which can then be presented as a slaughter of the innocents.

Even before the deed, Alice Walker has her language of outraged moral purity prepared — “but if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us…” The Israeli response is thus already an act of unprovoked murder, no matter that the flotilla is by its very essence a provocation. Whatever its cargo, by luring the Israeli military into action which can be represented as brutal, the flotilla is engaged in an entirely political act. To call it by any other name is the grossest hypocrisy.

Alice Walker might be feeling good about herself, but by giving the Palestinians the same old false comfort we’ve been doling out for more than half a century, and by allowing the Israelis to dismiss it as yet another act of misguided and uncomprehending adventurism — further evidence that its fears go unheeded – her political gesture only worsens the situation. The parties to this conflict need to be brought together not divided: but those who speak disingenuously of love will engender only further hatred.

This piece by Howard Jacboson is from cnn.

Lots more from Howard Jacobson here.

 

 

39 Responses to “Howard Jacobson on Alice Walker and her trip to Gaza”

  1. Eva Tait Says:

    Great article Mr Jacobson the word has gone mad flottilla is a provocation against the State Of Israel. usful idiots made feel saintly.I thank the saints!! in the name of the Israeli children.
    Solidarity with terrorist thats a nice goal!?
    BTW I enjoyed your book the Finkler Question

  2. NIMN Says:

    Payback time……….

    “Alongside this image of brave followers of Gandhi there is for me an awareness of paying off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the side of black people in the South in our time of need. I am especially indebted to Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who heard our calls for help – our government then as now glacially slow in providing protection to non-violent protestors-and came to stand with us.”

    Thanks Jews for all your help. Now, where did I put the receipt? Ah, here it is……..
    Now, to settle the debt (and since when was political solidarity to be measured by the rules of the market?) I am going to buy into the global attack of Israel in your name.

    Not the first time that Jews have been screwed by the “currency of love”.

  3. Bill Says:

    Many of the CNN responses are filled with nasty venom. I suspect a lot of it is big bad Zionazi is demonizing (criticizing) the lady who wrote the Color Purple who said that she cited The Children as one of her motivations. He might a well have punched Shirley Temple.

  4. Mira Vogel Says:

    I agree with H.J. about Alice Walker.

    I thought this from flotillisto Robert Naiman was worth giving serious consideration to since it comes from a solid human rights place:
    http://www.truth-out.org/no-hamas-exception-human-rights-reply-american-jewish-committee/1306076478

    “If the policy in 2010 had changed to that advocated by President Obama, “focusing narrowly on arms shipments,” there would be no dispute worth noticing today regarding the blockade.”

    (Robert Naiman’s safety in Gaza is of course conditional on not challenging Hamas’ human rights abuses – http://greensengage.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/prisoners-of-hamas/)

  5. Sarah AB Says:

    Good post – and here’s (just as a bit of a contrast, and in response to the telling observation that Israeli children weren’t being shown any solidarity or love) something I wrote about a project in Birmingham.

    http://hurryupharry.org/2011/06/17/working-for-peace-in-birmingham/

  6. NIMN Says:

    “Even before the deed, Alice Walker has her language of outraged moral purity prepared — “but if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us…” The Israeli response is thus already an act of unprovoked murder, no matter that the flotilla is by its very essence a provocation. Whatever its cargo, by luring the Israeli military into action which can be represented as brutal, the flotilla is engaged in an entirely political act. To call it by any other name is the grossest hypocrisy.”

    Meanwhile, in the real world………….

    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israeli-official-turkey-wants-un-to-tone-down-report-on-gaza-flotilla-raid-1.369614

    “A draft of the report, due to be released within two weeks, was given to Israel and Turkey about six weeks ago. The committee determined that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is in keeping with international law, and therefore its actions to stop the flotilla were also legal……………………

    According to a senior government official in Jerusalem, the report criticizes the Turkish government and highlights the relationship between it and IHH, the group that organized the flotilla…………..

    The report also states that, while Israel Defense Forces soldiers acted in self-defense, they used disproportionate force that led to the death of nine Turkish citizens. The report recommends that Israel pay compensation to the families of the dead and injured Turkish citizens, which Israel has already said it is willing to do.”

  7. Realpolitik Says:

    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/fear-and-no-clean-clothing-amira-hass-preparing-to-sail-for-gaza-1.369611

    Whilst the people in Gaza are suffering at the cold mercy of Hamas and a partial, albeit damaging blockade by Israel these guys spend their time fantazising about their own martyrdom and feeling good about themselves.

    Nothing so ugly as the sight of comfortable bourgeois radicals substituting real and difficult politics for their own wet dreams of being innocent victims of a hoped-for violence.

    Sickening.

  8. Paul M Says:

    What really disgusts is the unscrupulous — and in a writer of Walker’s stature — witting and calculated appropriation of all the vocabulary of human rights to her side alone. Her intention is to paint Israel as the enemy of children, peace and human rights; I suppose she must believe they are.

    If she was of the American far right, she’d be portraying her enemies as the enemies of freedom, Mom and apple pie — and her far left doppelgängers would be (appropriately) rolling their eyes, sneering and crying foul. She, every bit as much as the far right, is wrapping herself in a flag; just a different and bigger one. By the time she’s done with it, she’ll have reduced it to as much of a tattered rag as the Stars and Stripes now seems.

  9. Bill Says:

    What also presses my cynical button is how Walker could join a group bringing in plenty of relief supplies, more supplies, unfettered by the big baddie that is The Zionist Entity, that what the flotilla could support through Egypt. But that would not make for much publicity.

  10. amos Says:

    below is the position of israel’s left zionism (including peace now, the meretz party, gush shalom and human rights ngo).
    but then again why should engagers care? engage in practice means to engage with the israeli government and the israeli right. sad that the editors and participants in this website lost their sense of direction and drifted to mirror nearly always the pro-occupation positions of the israeli right. while it is true that i was never fully in here, it is clear that i’m now fully out. i suspect that i’m not the only british jew who feels this way.

    Let the flotilla go
    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/let-the-flotilla-go-1.369774

    • Jean Says:

      ‘but then again why should engagers care? engage in practice means to engage with the israeli government and the israeli right.’

      Most of the Israeli left oppose the flotillas, too.

      ‘sad that the editors and participants in this website lost their sense of direction and drifted to mirror nearly always the pro-occupation positions of the israeli right.’

      No. Just anti-Hamas and its profession of eternal jihad until Israel’s extinction. The blockade of which Walker seeks to break. Sod her, I say, and all who sail with her.

      ‘while it is true that i was never fully in here, it is clear that i’m now fully out.’

      Then why are you here, Engager?

    • Richard Gold Says:

      Hi Amos. Would you like to give examples of how the Engage editors “mirror nearly always the pro-occupation positions of the israeli right” ? You must have lots of examples so i’d like to know what they are. I’d like to know what pro-occupation positions there have been from the editors.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Amos, Jacobson is not saying that the flotilla should not go – he is dissecting this particular expression of international solidarity. I linked to a better position on the flotilla above:

      http://www.truth-out.org/no-hamas-exception-human-rights-reply-american-jewish-committee/1306076478

      “engage in practice means to engage with the israeli government and the israeli right”

      I don’t think there is any justification for saying that.
      Second video on this page, get past the stupid advert:
      http://www.dagbladet.no/2009/03/20/magasinet/dokumentar/israel/antisemittisme/utenriks/5379430/

      Also: http://greensengage.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/some-of-the-news/

      In fact though, it is important to engage with the Israeli right – but it isn’t what we’re doing here – we’re trying to engage people to recognise and reverse the antisemitism that singling out Israel for hostile attention usually entails. (Whether we do a good job or not is a different conversation.)

      As an Israeli, you are more responsible for Israel than for any other state, and I can understand that you are more angry about Israel than about any other state. Engage has never said “Look the other way”. But wouldn’t you allow that it is important not to go along with the zeitgeist in Britain that led, for example, to so much more international outrage about Palestinian deaths than about Tamil deaths in Sri Lanka, or the activities of the Lords Resistance Army in Congo? I’m arguing for proportion and an extension of human rights concerns to all peoples, and for people to be taken seriously when they raise concerns about antisemitism. You would not want your Israeli movements to focus so intensely and with such hostility on just one other country – we don’t either.

    • Absolute Observer Says:

      Hi amos,
      We promise in future to tow all the lines the Israelis ask us to tow.
      We promise we will hold back all criticism as it effects us in Europe in the name of the greater good of Israel.
      We promise not to raise the fact that the politics of the flotilla and the politics of the Occupation play themselves out differently in Europe and the US than in Israel.
      In following your advice, amos, we at Engage promise to act in the same ways that the Israeli right demand of the diaspora.
      And, should we adopt a position idenpendent of some sections of the Israeli left, we will accept being called “pro-Occupation” in the same way as the Israeli right label those who disagree with them, “Israel-haters”.

      And it is Engage that is accused of “mirroring” the Israeli right!!

  11. Lynne T Says:

    This weekend marked Gilad Shalit’s 5th year in captivity in Gaza and Hamas continuing to deny the International Red Cross access to their prisoner.

    So much for the humanitarianism of the flotillistas.

  12. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    Walker’s piece in The Guardian and CNN is edited from a longer essay which appears on her website. If one has the stomach, then it is alsoworth reading.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/25/alice-walker-gaza-freedom-flotilla
    http://alicewalkersgarden.com/blog/

    For some reason, the following is not included in the esited press version.
    Alice Walker writes on her website : “I have never believed in the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. Whenever I saw the men gathering to talk about peace I was reminded of what the Indians said to the white colonizers of America who came to talk peace with them: ” Where are your women?” An occasional woman has appeared to take part in the talks, but overwhelmingly the process has been male driven. I like to think if women, in equal numbers to men, had been at the table things might not have turned out so badly. But perhaps, recalling the disrespectful young Israeli women at the check-points, this is naive.”

    So, what is the way forward since she states that “she never believed in the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks”.
    (And even if women were included at peace talks, it would be a waste of time “recalling the disrespectful young Israeli women at the check-points, this is naive.”)

    Walker continues in a vein which, to some ears, might sound anti-semitic: “the peace talks have been a ruse to continue their growth so that Jewish Israelis can claim the land by possession alone. Possession is nine-tenths of the law is one of the dictums I learned from my Jewish lawyer former husband. This belief might even be enshrined in the Torah. In any case it is a very old idea, and Israelis have made good use of it.”

    So presumably the only answer is for Israel to just give into Hamas’s demands; Israel must capitulate. And if this leads to Israel’s destruction, then one might inevitably conclude that she has finally got what she deserves.

  13. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    The attached from wikipedia is interesting. Readers should draw their own conclusions:

    “In 1965, Walker met Melvyn Roseman Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They were married on March 17, 1967 in New York City. Later that year the couple relocated to Jackson, Mississippi, becoming “the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi”. They were harassed and threatened by whites, including the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter Rebecca in 1969. Walker described her in 2008 as “a living, breathing, mixed-race embodiment of the new America that they were trying to forge.” Walker and her husband divorced amicably in 1976.

    Walker and her daughter became estranged. Rebecca felt herself to be more of “a political symbol… than a cherished daughter”. She published a memoir entitled “Black White and Jewish”, expressing the complexities of her parents’ relationship and her childhood.

    In the mid-1990s, Walker was involved in a romance with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman.”

  14. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    Alice Walker’s article is focussed on the plight of the children in Gaza.“One child must never be set above another child,” she says.
    However, it is interesting to read what Walker’s own daughter writes about her. One has to wonder whether this damaged relationship is somehow impinging on Walker’s political interventions in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1021293/How-mothers-fanatical-feminist-views-tore-apart-daughter-The-Color-Purple-author.html

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      “I am my own woman and I have discovered what really matters – a happy family.”
      Sorry, Dictator – that piece lost me. This was almost bound to happen given Rebecca Walker was trying to sell her book to Daily Mail readers…

      • Bella Says:

        Dear Mira, I’m a little disappointed that you don’t recognize the Mrs. Jellyby syndrome as described by Alice Walker’s daughter. I would have thought that we have reached a phase of feminism when we can be honest about how some women, in the throes of liberation euphoria, may have neglected the actual children in their lives on behalf of universal children. I come from that generation and I’ve seen it happen. I may not be happy with the florid Daily Mail style of the article but appreciate completely her disappointment in a mother who had never even bothered to meet her grandchild. And yes, I believe there is a tangential relationship between Alice Walker the semi-detached mother and Alice Walker the self-satisfied advocate of all the world’s children except Israel’s.

        • Mira Vogel Says:

          Hi Bella, I’m sure Rebecca Walker was deeply affected by her treatment, but I don’t know enough about either psychology or Alice Walker to be confident there’s a relationship between the semi-detached mother and the flotilla dross. Like B.D. and you, I do think that Alice Walker’s avowed love of children is compromised by it. But I reserve the right to be sensitive to the Mail’s editorial line.

      • Blacklisted Dictator Says:

        Mira,
        I think that Alice Walker’s daughter is lamenting the fact that her own up-bringing was so unhappy.

        Readers must draw their own conclusions about whether any of Alice Walker’s personal issues might be impacting on her political activities viv a vis Israel. And since Alice Walker is a writer who has used her own life as a basis for her fiction, then it is
        reasonable to raise the issue. There can can be no doubt that she has an extreme hatred for the Israelis and I am trying to see what is at the root of it.

        • Blacklisted Dictator Says:

          Mira,

          If you haven’t already, do read the unedited version of the article which appears on Alice Walker’s website. It makes the CNN/ Guardian diatribe seem quite mild. Unfortunately, it has a cliched black anti-racist, anti-semitic edge to it and one can’t help wondering whether her daughter’s memoir “Black White and Jewish” might hold the psychological key.

          You might believe that it is little more than irrelevant “Daily Mail” tittle-tattle (with the sole aim of selling books), but when a writer (Alice Walker) uses such anti-Israeli invective the gobsmacked bystander is entitled to ask “Where the hell does that come from??” (I think it goes beyond a mere examination of a feminist who has some ideological reservations about motherhood.)

  15. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    It strikes me that Amos doesn’t bother to read these columns with any degree of closeness. He was told, in some detail, by a number of us just what was meant (in these columns at least) by “as-a-Jew”. Not only does he ignore that, he then proceeds to post a couple of unpleasant videos on this site, as tho’ to prove…what? That Jews (in this case Israeli Jews) can be as racist as any BNP thug? One would hardly expect someone who appears to be a right-wing Zionist to be proving our point for us; rather the opposite.

    I criticise my own government (the UK one), whether I voted for it or not, all the time; it’s my democratic right. Am I supposed to give up that right just because it’s the Israeli government that deserves criticism? If you believe that, then you need to read “About us” on the top right of every page of this website.

    Please, an answer to these points would be most welcome.

  16. The Ozi Zion Blog » Blog Archive » Howard Jacobson on the colour purple floater Says:

    [...] Howard Jacobson tackles this status head on in this article. [...]

  17. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    The captain of The Audacity of Hope has been arrested in Greece so it seems unlikely that Alice will get t deliver the letters.

    Check out this interview with Alice Walker. She calls Israel and America “terrorist states”:

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/23/interview_alice_walker?page=full

  18. Policy review Says:

    On Foreign Policy

    http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/category/one_time_tags/obama_and_the_israel_lobby
    (note Walt’s citing of the mad Mondoweiss – and this in a “scholarly” article!)

    http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/06/05/the_cairo_speech_round_two

    From the comments on the last article that have not been removed……….

    “Issues with Obama’s Speech
    Summary: Holocaust and Ashkenazi Genocidalism

    Now that we have more access to Russian, Polish, and Soviet archives, any discussion of the Holocaust is completely inappropriate unless contextualized by the history of ethnic Ashkenazi financial crimes, sabotage, radical violence, targeted assassinations, mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

    Forbes: Zionist ethnonational Financial Warfare

    Transnational Zionist political economic oligarchs skim a good chuck of that subsidy described above into their pockets in addition to what they suck more directly out of the US economy.

    These oligarchs like Saban, Bronfman, Adelson, the Krafts, Peretz, etc. are Netanyahu’s real employers.

    If Obama wants to change Israeli behavior. He need only add the IDF to the list of terrorist organizations on the basis of the Gaza rampage — there is more than enough documentation to do so.

    Then the US government could start arresting the oligarchs for aiding and abetting Zionist terrorism. Seizing all the oligarch’s assets and all the assets of Israel advocacy organizations would defang the Israel Lobby.

    I do not understand why ordinary progressive Jews, who do not have multiple millions of dollars in the bank run interference for the oligarchs, who view ordinary Jews as canon fodder to defend plutocratic revenue streams.

    Why Not Remove Zionist Interlopers?

    What is sauce for the goose is gravy for the gander.

    Because Neocons acting as a Jewish Zionist special interest formulated policies that forced millions to become refugees, an even handed US foreign policy must treat the removal of criminal Zionist conglomeration from the ME as a completely valid option that would stabilize the ME and benefit US interests.”

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      “Now that we have more access to Russian, Polish, and Soviet archives, any discussion of the Holocaust is completely inappropriate unless contextualized by the history of ethnic Ashkenazi financial crimes, sabotage, radical violence, targeted assassinations, mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.”

      This is a parody, right? Right?

  19. Intent and Effect Says:

    A more respectable version of rabid racism of the quote from “Policy Review”

    “we will bring activists and concerned citizens from around the country to learn about the extraordinary influence AIPAC has on U.S. policy”
    “American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has a dangerous stranglehold over U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East.”
    “Move Over AIPAC is a campaign that aims to wean U.S. policy away from AIPAC’s grip”

    http://www.moveoveraipac.org/about-us/

    “we will bring activists and concerned citizens from around the country to learn about the extraordinary influence AIPAC has on U.S. policy and how to strengthen an alternative that respects the rights of all people in the region.

    “Move Over AIPAC is a campaign that aims to wean U.S. policy away from AIPAC’s grip towards an even-handed position that respects international law and the human rights of all people in the region.

    We are concerned that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has a dangerous stranglehold over U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East. AIPAC’s unrelenting support for the illegal policies of the Israeli government—separation walls, settlements, the siege of Gaza—in addition to its bellicose policies across the region, especially Iran, has been devastating for Palestinians and the Middle East, including Israel. It also harms our reputation around the world and squanders $3 billion a year subsidizing the powerful Israeli military when we need that money to rebuild the United States.”

  20. Bialik Says:

    ‘Possession is 9/10th of the law’. I heard that growing up but nobody ever said it was a Jewish saying uttered by Jewish lawyers to justify Jewish occupation. What next? ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ a conspiracy by Jewish tailors to get business? This is getting absurd.

    • Bill Says:

      . What next? ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ a conspiracy by Jewish tailors to get business? This is getting absurd.

      Well courtesy of Mira and Modernity, we do have the Franklin Prophesies back in our laps. That’s the best “feature” in Antisemitism 2.0. It’s not just upgradeable, it’s expandable.


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