You can’t say Alice Walker doesn’t put her money where her mouth is. The news that the Pulitzer-prize winning American novelist has refused to authorize a Hebrew-language translation of her landmark novel “The Color Purple” comes as little surprise. She has been involved for decades in pro-Palestinian activism. Initially drawn to the cause after the Six Day War in 1967, Walker has since been a vocal and personal advocate for Palestine, calling Israel “the greatest terrorist in that part of the world” in interviews, and even volunteering to join the 2011 flotilla named “The Audacity of Hope” that set sail to protest the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.
It’s not the first time that Walker has withheld her work from a particular market for political reasons, either: She would not allow a film version of “The Color Purple” to be shown in South Africa until after Nelson Mandela assumed the presidency. The parallel is not lost on her; in fact, it’s central to her argument. Walker invoked the South African situation explicitly in her letter to Yediot Books, which was to be the publisher of the translation. She denounced Israel as “far worse” than South Africa and in 2009 was one of many signers to a petition that referred to Israel as having an “apartheid regime.”
The obvious question is what kind of effect — if any — withholding a translation will have. Walker says she never meant to deprive any readers. Her letter expresses a hope that, like the eventual release of the movie in South Africa, “The Color Purple” may one day be enjoyed in Israel “by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace.” She wants to share, not to censor. “But,” she writes “now is not the time.”
Publishing a book involves more than just literary creativity. It’s part of a business, one that’s competitive, globalized, and political, and the translation of a book like Walker’s can often bring all these elements into play in dramatic ways.
“It seems safe and fair to say that the flotilla and its leadership work in reasonably close harmony with Hamas, which constitutes the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he wrote.
It’s unclear if Hitchens, by “in reasonably close harmony,” meant to suggest that the flotilla activists are in actual collaboration with the Islamist organization that governs Gaza, or just that they are self-consciously in sympathy with it. Whichever it is, the claim is large, and unsubstantiated. Worse, it distracts from a more important truth.
Whether those aboard the flotilla are working with, or have had any communication with Hamas, doesn’t matter. Whether they believe in Hamas’s Islamist ideology and declared mission to destroy Israel, doesn’t matter. Either way, their actions support Hamas.