The New York Times is playing defense after Alice Walker gave the following reading recommendation in an interview: "‘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."
As Tablet Magazine noted, David Icke's books are dripping with anti-Semitism (often couched in the language that he has nothing against Jews, just extraterrestrial lizards posing as "Rothschild Zionists"). Just in the book Walker recommended, Icke endorses The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and blames space-lizard-Jews for the Ku Klux Klan, both world wars, the Russian Revolution, anti-Semitic hate crimes, the Holocaust (before denying the Holocaust), and the slave trade.
"Our editors do not offer background or weigh in on the books named in the By the Book column, whether the subject issues a positive or negative judgment on those books," a spokesman said, following criticism from Tablet and the Anti-Defamation League. "Many people recommend books Times editors dislike, disdain or even abhor in the column."
This is a fair point: imagine the headache that would come with policing each and every choice offered up by an interviewee for the column. The Times didn't err in running Walker's comments unchallenged. Instead the Times, its media peers, liberal activists, the literary world—polite society in general, really—erred for years in ignoring the clear signs that Walker was a conspiratorial anti-Semitic kook.
The Anti-Defamation League has long complained that Walker's criticism of Israel has crossed the line into anti-Semitism. For example, Walker suggested the supposed evils of Israel were inherent to Judaism itself. Israeli settlements, she wrote, are based on the notion that "possession is nine-tenths of the law," which she claims she "learned from my Jewish lawyer former husband. This belief might even be enshrined in the Torah."
Her 2017 poem "It Is Our (Frightful) Duty to Study the Talmud" also provided a hint she may be a bigot. The premise of the poem is that the evils of Israel, America, and policing and war itself all have their roots in the ancient Jewish text. "Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only/ That, but to enjoy it?/ Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?" she asks. "Are young boys fair game for rape?/ Must even the best of the Goyim (us, again) be killed?"
Even her admiration for the blatantly anti-Semitic Icke has been well-documented, as in a 2013 Commentary piece. "[The space lizards] wanted gold and they wanted slaves to mine it for them. Now gosh, who does this remind us of? I only am asking…" they quote Walker as writing.
Spell it out for us, Alice. Who does that remind you of?
And yet just in the past few months, Walker has been interviewed by NPR, MSNBC (twice), BBC Radio, and now the Times with scarce a mention of her unconventional views. In the rare moments Walker's kooky beliefs have received media coverage, they are inevitably downplayed. Take the Associated Press article on the latest fiasco, obtusely headlined "Author Alice Walker criticized for support of writer's book."
Or take this April interview with the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, in which Walker said the following:
"David is actually brilliant, and I think people should listen more to what he has to say," she said. Reptilians? "What about it? My parents always said that the white people around us were like snakes, because of the way they treated us."
AJC‘s headline, amazingly, was "Author Alice Walker on women, men, and the fate of the planet."
It'd be easy to chalk this all up as a blind spot for Walker, an iconic African-American author. But it mirrors the recent muted reaction to an exhaustively-researched Tablet piece about the Women's March. The magazine confirmed that the feminist organization has been teeming with anti-Semitism from the outset, with national leaders berating their Jewish peers, repeating conspiracy theories about Jews, and outsourcing security to the militant wing of the Nation of Islam.
However, a Lexis Nexis search finds the Tablet piece got minimal coverage in the national media outside of Jewish and conservative outlets. The Washington Post mentioned the controversy in an aside in a piece about the Women's March rolling out a new platform. It received a short blurb in The Guardian‘s live-blog. Only New York Magazine asked "What the Hell Is Going on With the Women’s March?", and even that piece was more about a PR firm's inept attempt to deflect from the controversy.
Aaaaand, that's it. Three mentions.
Time and time again, the media fails at due diligence and ignores the warning signs of anti-semitism in those they agree with. Often they end up with egg on their face, as when CNN ignored complaints about contributor Marc Lamont Hill taking smiling photos with Louis Farrakhan, only to have to fire him a month later for a second anti-Semitism controversy.
The New York Times learned the same lesson yesterday. Ignore hate all you like, but don't act surprised when you end up publishing it.