NYT Podcast Neglects to Ask Alice Walker About History of Anti-Jewish Comments

Alice Walker
Alice Walker / Getty Images
May 7, 2020

A New York Times podcast neglected to ask author Alice Walker about her history of anti-Jewish comments in a wide-ranging interview this week, despite the fact that the paper's news section has described some of Walker's writings about Jews as "blatantly anti-Semitic."

In a half-hour interview on Wednesday, New York Times podcast host and author Cheryl Strayed talked to Walker, the author of The Color Purple, about subjects ranging from coronavirus fears to romantic breakups. But she did not ask Walker about her claims that Jews support the enslavement of non-Jews or her endorsement of a book that draws on conspiracy theories from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Strayed and a spokesperson for the Times did not respond to a request for comment. Strayed wrote on Twitter on Thursday that she was unaware of the controversy. "I had no idea and neither did the producers who make the show," she said, adding that, had she been aware, "I would not have invited Alice Walker on the show." She also said she had removed social media posts promoting the episode.

Walker, a prominent supporter of the anti-Israel "boycott, divestment and sanctions" movement, has compared Israel to Nazi Germany and published a poem in 2017 called "It Is Our (Frightful) Duty to Study the Talmud" which makes numerous false claims about the Jewish text.

She encouraged her supporters to watch YouTube videos about the Talmud that claimed the Jewish religion supports the murder of all non-Jews and advocates raping babies.

"Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only/ That, but to enjoy it?" she wrote.

Strayed's interview was not adversarial. Strayed is a New York Times bestselling author of books about personal growth and a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who has said "every day Trump is in office is a travesty."

"A word that I associate with you is joy. So much of your work is so full of sorrow and hardship," Strayed said to Walker on the podcast. "But always there is joy at its center. I'm curious how did you foster that within you?"

The two also discussed her activities during social distancing, her nighttime dreams, romantic heartbreak, meditative breathing techniques, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., opposition to the Vietnam war, her development as a young writer, Aretha Franklin, her childhood in church, her love of nature, the I Ching, Jane Eyre, her estrangement and reconciliation with her daughter, raising teenagers, and her views on the afterlife.

It is not the first time Walker has been featured in the Times. The paper has faced backlash for publishing Walker's recommendation of an anti-Semitic book in its book section in 2018. That book, And the Truth Shall Set You Free by David Icke, promulgates a host of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

"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," Walker told the paper at the time.

A subsequent Times news article about the controversy described the book as having "anti-Jewish overtones" and drawing "on ideas from the anti-Semitic pamphlet 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' argues that Holocaust denial should be taught in schools and that Jews are responsible for organizing anti-Semitic attacks, and calls the Talmud a racist document."

The Times was criticized by Jewish groups and other media outlets for publishing Walker's recommendation without commentary.

"[T]he publication passed it on to readers without qualification. This is rather remarkable because the book is an unhinged anti-Semitic conspiracy tract written by one of Britain's most notorious anti-Semites," wrote Yair Rosenberg in Tablet magazine at the time.

In response to the public backlash, the book review editor said that the publication "would never add that a book is factually inaccurate, or that the author is a serial predator, or any kind of judgment on the work or the writer. We do not issue a verdict on people's opinions."

Walker defended her praise for Icke's book in a post on her website, calling him "brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask."

Walker has been a longtime supporter of Icke, who was banned from YouTube earlier this month after he posted videos claiming that there was a link between coronavirus and 5G phone networks.

"YouTube has clear policies prohibiting any content that disputes the existence and transmission of Covid-19 as described by the WHO and the NHS," a YouTube spokesperson told the BBC last week.

Walker posted a new video of Icke being interviewed by a British pundit on her website on Tuesday, calling it "the largest livestream, human funded conversation in human history. It is also, in my opinion, the most important." In the interview, Icke promotes conspiracy theories linking the coronavirus pandemic to 5G and Bill Gates. The prior interview in the series was removed by Spotify for promoting misinformation about the coronavirus.

UPDATE May 7, 2020, 9:19 p.m.: This report has been updated to reflect Strayed's response to the incident on Twitter. 

Published under: New York Times