By Peter C. Herman
Sunday’s New York Times Book Review featured an interview with the distinguished Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, among other works. Asked “what books are on your nightstand,” Walker replied with four, but it’s the second one that’s alarming:
“And the Truth Shall Set You Free,” by David Icke. In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about. A curious person’s dream come true.
I admit I had never heard of David Icke, and the reference to “several other” planets led me to assume the book was an exercise in science fiction. I could not have been more wrong.
In fact, this book “is an unhinged anti-Semitic conspiracy tract written by one of Britain’s most notorious anti-Semites,” in Yair Rosenberg’s words. Among the book’s claims:
- The Talmud is “among the most appallingly racist documents on the planet.”
- The B’nai Brith was behind the slave trade and continues to control the Klu Klux Klan
- The Holocaust never happened: ““Why do we play a part in suppressing alternative information to the official line of the Second World War? How is it right that while this fierce suppression goes on, free copies of the Spielberg film, Schindler’s List, are given to schools to indoctrinate children with the unchallenged version of events?”
That David Icke is an appalling anti-Semite is obvious. But so, evidently, is Alice Walker, who has repeatedly praised Icke’s book. On May 19, 2013, in an interview with BBC Radio 4, for example, Walker says that Icke’s Human Race Get off Your Knees would be her choice for a desert island book. In this work, Icke claims that shape-shifting lizards and “Rothschild Zionists” rule the earth.
Walker also agrees with Icke’s views about Jewish literature. In “It is Our Frightful Duty to Study the Talmud,” a “poem” published on her website in 2017, Walker opines,
It is our duty, I believe, to study The Talmud.
It is within this book that,
I believe, we will find answers
To some of the questions
That most perplex us.
What are some of these “answers” for the perplexed? Jesus is boiling “eternally in hot excrement, / For his ‘crime’ of throwing the bankers / Out of the Temple;” “Goyim (us) [are] meant to be slaves of Jews;” and it’s okay to have sex with a three-year old.
But you would not know any of this from Walker’s interview. Instead, she is portrayed as the embodiment of compassion, a woman who “feels a duty to read about countries devastated by war.”
And this is how anti-Semitism becomes normal.
First, the New York Times lends her their authority and prestige by interviewing Walker, even though her poisonous views about Jews are common knowledge—Walker’s Wikipedia entry has a separate section on “Anti-Semitism and Support for Conspiracy Theories.”
Second, when Walker praises a book so revoltingly anti-Semitic that Icke’s publisher rejected it, the Times does not challenge her. Instead, the interviewer accepts Walker’s choice as completely anodyne, no different than Maya Angelou’s Mom & Me & Mom, the fourth book on Walker’s nightstand.
This at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. A recent CNN poll revealed that “Jews have too much influence in business and finance. Nearly one in four said Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars across the world.” A third knows little to nothing about the Holocaust. As for the United States, in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents surged by nearly 60 percent, according to the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), culminating in the massacre of 11 elderly worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. This at a time when anti-Semitism seems to have become a staple of both the Left and the Right.
So maintaining a polite silence about Walker’s embracing Icke’s screed, and about her views about Jews in general, has real consequences.
The New York Times has tried to defend itself, claiming that “As with any interview, the subject’s answers do not imply an endorsement by Times editors.” But that is not good enough because silence in this case implies consent. Allowing Walker’s recommendation to be published without comment, let alone a disavowal, implies that it’s acceptable to read books repeating the same anti-Semitic tropes found in The Protocols of Zion. And people who read such books will not be denied the prestige accompanying a full-page interview in the newspaper of record.
By not calling out Icke’s hatred of Jews and Walker’s own anti-Semitism (as shown by her “poem” about the Talmud), the New York Times insinuates that such beliefs are normal.
And we all know where “normal” anti-Semitism leads.
Peter C. Herman is a professor of English Literature at San Diego State University. He works on Shakespeare, Milton, and the literature of terrorism. He is the editor of the recent book Critical Concepts: Terrorism and Literature.
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