Monday, June 25, 2012

The Color Purple and BDS

PULITZER PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR Alice Walker recently refused to authorize a Hebrew translation of her book The Color PurpleWalker is an ardent anti-Israel activist and was a passenger on a flotilla boat aimed at breaking Israel's blockade of Gaza.

It is always disappointing to learn that a celebrity whose work I admire is either anti Israel or anti-semite, or both.  In such cases Jews are faced with what I call the "Mel Gibson Dilemma" or the dilemma of whether Jews can still enjoy the work of an artist despite the artist's offensive views.

Whenever possible I try to avoid learning the political views of my favorite artists, especially on the subject of Israel, because more often than not I am disappointed.

Alice Walker was one of those disappointments. 

It has been awhile since I read the Color Purple, however I have frequently given classes in which Alice Walker's short story For Everyday Use was the subject of discussion.  For Everyday Use is a brilliant piece that directly relates to the American Jewish experience.  Walker is a brilliant author and it shocks me that she has such radical views regarding the Israel / Arab conflict.  She has gone as far as to say that the treatment of Arabs in Israel is worse than the treatment of blacks was in Apartheid South Africa.  I would expect someone of her intelligence to understand that the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is more complicated than the way that she seems to understand it.


I find it especially ironic that she would use The Color Purple as a political tool against Israel.  It was two very prominent Jewish producers who brought The Color Purple to the stage.  The film adaptation was produced by Steven Spielberg (whose movies were banned by the Arab league) and the Broadway musical was produced by Harvey Weinstein.

On the other hand, it is possible it was through her involvement with so many liberal Jews that she was exposed to Arab perspective of the conflict. 

After learning about Walker's views I couldn't help but do a few google searches on some of the actors in The Color Purple and see where they stood on Israel and Jews.

Whoopi Goldberg starred in the movie adaptation of The Color Purple and despite her Jewish sounding stage name (Goldberg, not Whoopi) a google search reveals that she defended both Helen Thomas and Mel Gibson after each of their respective anti-semitic rants.

Danny Glover, Goldberg's costar in The Color Purple, is also not a big fan of the Jewish State  (I liked him better in Predator 2.  It takes Guts to replace King Arnold in a sequel.  Almost like Jeff Bridges taking on John Wayne's role in True Grit).

Oprah was the big surprise. Before I hit the 'search' button I was a bit apprehensive.  I have always thought that Oprah was one of the Righteous Among the Nations.  Oprah introduced millions and millions of people to reading through her book club and she is regularly involved in countless acts of chesed and tzedakah, inspiring her millions of fans to follow her shining example. 

I didn't want to learn that she too shared Alice Walker's extremist views.

But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Oprah has actually stood up for Israel in the past and went on an Israel solidarity trip.  In fact, she has even been the subject of criticism for her pro Israel views.

This certainly supported everything I had felt about Oprah and I am happy to know that she is a friend of Israel and the Jewish people. I think it's time for a subscription to O magazine to show her my support.



Rabbi Jonathan Gross is rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue in Omaha, Nebraska.