Author Alice Walker has refused to allow an Israeli company to publish a new Hebrew edition of her classic novel "The Color Purple," arguing that "Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people."
Walker has been an outspoken critic of Israeli actions, taking part in a protest flotilla last year aimed at breaking through the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. In her recent letter to Yediot Books, she compared Israel to South Africa under apartheid, where the Steven Spielberg film adaptation of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was not released until after the system of racial segregation had ended.
"I would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young, and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside," Walker wrote. "I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time."
The decision disappointed Yediot Books chief editor Netta Gurevich, who told the Associated Press that the arts could help bridge differences.
"That’s all the more so when talking about 'The Color Purple,' a book that addresses discrimination, otherness and the importance of the individual’s struggle against injustice in general," Gurevich said, according to the Associated Press.
Israel supporters slammed the move as senseless and discriminatory. Middle East commentator Tom Gross called it "a shocking new low," saying Walker was essentially boycotting the Hebrew language. Her backers countered that Walker had not mentioned Hebrew in her letter, only Israel.
Though her decision scuttles a new Israeli edition, the novel, a searing story of racism and sexism in the '30s in the American South, has been translated into Hebrew before, according to Israeli media.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Alice Walker in 2009. Credit: Tara Todras-Whitehill / Associated Press