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Alice Walker says no to Israeli edition of 'The Color Purple'

June 20, 2012 |  4:47 pm

Alicewalker_1996
Citing "apartheid" in Israel and the occupied territories, author Alice Walker declined an offer to publish a new Israeli edition of her prize-winning novel "The Color Purple."

In recent years Walker has become an increasingly vocal advocate for Palestinian issues. Her reply to publisher Yediot Books, which had wanted rights to print a Hebrew edition of "The Color Purple," is posted on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Thank you so much for wishing to publish my novel THE COLOR PURPLE.  It isn’t possible for me to permit this at this time for the following reason:  As you may know, last Fall in South Africa the Russell Tribunal on Palestine met and determined that Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.  The testimony we heard, both from Israelis and Palestinians (I was a jurist) was devastating.  I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse.  Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than  what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long.

It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.

Licensing books internationally rarely makes news. American authors whose works are published overseas get additional payments from international publishers; it can be a nice way for books that sell well to make an additional profit. A book like "The Color Purple," which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and went on to be the subject of a film, would be a good candidate for international sales.

Walker mentions the film in her letter to the Israeli publisher. The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, came out in 1985. During consideration of whether it should be released in South Africa, Walker and Spielberg agreed to honor a cultural boycott and not allow it to show in that country while it was under apartheid. After the apartheid system was dismantled in the mid-1990s, the film finally did show there. "[T]o this day, when I am in South Africa, I can hold my head high and nothing obstructs the love that flows between me and the people of that country," Walker writes.

Walker's decision to withhold "The Color Purple" from publication has stirred controversy. An email to Anti-Defamation League supporters went out Wednesday afternoon with the subject line "Alice Walker's Decision Not to Publish 'The Color Purple' in Hebrew Exposes Her Own Bias & Bigotry."  In it, the ADL writes, "It is sad that people who inspire to fight bigotry and prejudice continue to have a biased and bigoted side. For some time Walker has been blinded by her anti-Israel animus."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes that Walker's book was published before in Israel; a Hebrew edition appeared in the country in the 1980s. According to publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Walker's books have been translated into more than two dozen languages.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Alice Walker at a 1996 book signing at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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