Alice Walker disinvited from University of Michigan over ‘Israel comments’

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Alice Walker speaks in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

(Lazar Simeonov / TEDxRamallah)

World-renowned American author Alice Walker has been disinvited from giving a speech at the University of Michigan because a donor objects to her views on Israel, the agent negotiating the contract was told.

Walker, the Pultizer Prize winning author of The Color Purple, posted on her blog an excerpt of a letter from the agent informing her that the invitation to keynote the 50th anniversary celebration of the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan had been withdrawn.

The agent wrote:

I’m saddened to write this because I’m a proponent of free speech and have been brought up to allow everyone to have their say. But I also realize that there are other considerations that institutions are faced with. This afternoon I was contacted by the University of Michigan instructing me to withdraw their invitation due to the removal of funding from the donors, because of their interpretation of Ms. Walker’s comments regarding Israel. They are not willing to fund this program and the university/Women’s center do not have the resources to finance this on their own. They are deeply regretful but I wanted to let you know immediately either way. I hope you can appreciate the fact that I’m uncomfortable even having to send this email in the first place. Hopefully we can work together again down the road. Thanks for understanding. I wish things had turned out differently.

Calling the withdrawn invitation “Censorship by Purse String,” Walker wrote, “Such behavior, as evidenced by the donors, teaches us our weakness, which should eventually (and soon) show us our strength: women must be in control of our own finances. Not just in the family, but in the schools, work force, and everywhere else. Until we control this part of our lives, our very choices, in any and every area, can be denied us.”

Walker is listed as one of the speakers represented by the American Program Bureau agency.

Alice Walker not “optimum choice”

Gloria D. Thomas, director of the Center for the Education of Women, acknowledged that Walker had been disinvited, but said that the matter was a “misunderstanding.” In an email to The Electronic Intifada, Thomas wrote:

The [Walker’s] blog was a result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. As director of the Center for the Education of Women (CEW), I decided to withdraw our invitation because I didn’t think Ms. Walker would be our optimum choice for our 50th anniversary. 

Our 50th anniversary funding is assured. All donations, for this and other events, are accepted with no provisos or prohibitions regarding free speech. In fact, in a conversation with one of Ms. Walker’s friends/representatives, I indicated that I would be willing to speak with other units around campus to serve as a possible co-sponsor for a lecture by Ms. Walker in the near future.

Asked if a speaker had been chosen to replace Walker, Thomas wrote, “No contract has been signed yet. This information will be made available on our website once the contract is confirmed.”

Walker: supporter of Palestinian rights

In recent years, Walker has become increasingly outspoken in her support of Palestinian rights, sometimes likening Israel’s abuses to the Jim Crow racist system she grew up with in the southern United States.

Walker has written about her visit to Gaza, and participated in the June 2011 solidarity flotilla that attempted to reach the territory besieged by Israel, which led to her being demonized by the Israeli army.

Her position on boycott has also been deliberately distorted by Israeli media.

Walker has campaigned for other artists, most recently Alicia Keys, to respect the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

In her letter to Keys, Walker wrote:

I have written over the years that explain why a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major “crime” is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own.

Could Walker, one of the most celebrated figures in American letters, now be paying the price of refusing to be silent about Palestine?

Comments

It is absolutely time for Israel to negotiate once and for all it's place in what was named Palestine when I was born in 1948. Nobody wants to deny Israel a place in the sun but it must not be achieved by ousting the indigenous peoples in situ in Palestine. My sympathy for Israel and the (small z) zionism which led the nation to it's original, shared homeland after the Diaspora has been irreversible since the Holocaust entered my consciousness as a youth. But now, after all the killing, the land of Palestine must be shared equitably with the Arabic indigenes. This is my first ond only time to speak out against Israeli policies but I hope it will be the last. This destruction and slaughter of Palestinians must end - I hope, In my lifetime !

Any American who stands and swears by the US Constitution and, yet, remains silent over the federal government's support (via billions in US tax dollars) a regime which attempts to establish a statehood based on religious identity, and through ethnic cleansing and apartheid, is not only a hypocrite and a moron but a traitor, as well.

Let me make sure that I understand this. If I disagree with you, then I am a hypocrite, moron, and a traitor? What about if you disagree with me? Do these same 'rules' apply?

Surely that would depend on what Chris disagreed with you *about*.
In this case Chris specified the issue as Israel's policies of apartheid and illegal occupation.
The fact that a situation applies to one set of circumstances does not mean that the same situation applies in reverse to *different* circumstances. This is a logical fallacy.

No. It is not a 'logical fallacy.' Even if Chris was 'right' and I was 'wrong' does not make me a hypocrite or a moron. The fact that he used such words implies that it matters not what the subject matter is - anything that Chris says is 'right' and if I (or you) disagree with him, then, absolutely, we must be 'hypocrites' and/or 'morons'.

I'm in complete agreement with you!

Bravo to you fellow American ! Martin Luther King refused to back down, shut up or bend to hatred ; just like the Palestinian people.
All people of good conscience must stand with the Palestinian people to see justice done. It is that simple.

Only the Palestinian people can decide what and how their land is to be shared, if that. But toward that end, all the world must support that effort.

Alice Walker is courageous, learning g a lesson from the courage of the Palestinian people, facing death and oppression everyday and all day.

Stand strong Palestine , stand strong !

Because the USA has never itself had anything to do with imposing a religious identity, ethnic cleansing, and institutionalized racism... right?

Israel has not only established a state doing all the regrettable actions that you have mentioned, but the Zionists (Israel) have done it on land stolen from the indigenous people of Palestine

Great commentary, and I agree with this anonymous person completely. This person is clearly torn in both directions, as am I, since I have always supported the right of Israel to exist, in Palestine, since I have been old enough to understand the complex dynamics of this conflict, that is, since the late 1950's. On the other hand, I am convinced that Israel has become too often dominated by a Right-Wing fascist-like government and military, in a curious and unacceptable reversal of the events in Hitler's Germany. I do not see that Israel yet rises obviously, to the worst of the atrocities of the Nazis, but I do believe it has already moved into the earlier stages of the practices of the Hitler Regime, and this colors every kind of action by this present Israeli government. Therefore as a Progressive human being, I grow constantly more disturbed by the Settlements, and by this very high wall winding throughout the West Bank area, separating the two ethnic groups, and other issues, too numerous to state here.-
I think of the genuine efforts of Yitzhak Rabin, the reformed Israeli General who saw a pathway to understanding and peace, and spoke out courageously to all of the sides, with a vision comprehending both cultures, and leading to a cessation of war, and of the bitter hatred between Muslims and Jews. He was assassinated, in 1995, as we all know just precisely for this far more lofty vision; just because it was so profoundly right and good.-
He and his vision for Two States living in relative harmony, is my model for the future of Palestine...God bless him for carrying it forward, despite all risks to himself and his family. We must return to his inner strength and character, and his far sight, to solve the dilemma of this great nodal point in the geopolitical realities of our present world. Both of these Peoples deserve this to happen, and it is my most fervent wish that this shall be accomplished in the very near future. Let it be so.

Why do you support Israel's right to exist? Israel is the Jewish Homeland for the Jewish People. So you support that? Do you support America as the White homeland for the White people? Europe to be the White Homeland for the White People? Why not? If you can have your Jewish Homeland for the Jewish people then where is our white homeland for the white people?

and the forced/systemic English Food Removal from all 32 counties of Occupied Ireland the world press coined it "The Holocaust"
as for Alice Walker she & really the women of U of M are victims of censorship [period]

Small 'z' zionism is okay?? So, if I move into your house, first taking over the living room, then--through 'necessity'--the bathroom and the kitchen, pushing you into the garden shed, that's okay? Of course, my justification is that I was mistreated by my boss who has no connection with you. Your illogic, coupled with your 'same-old' sentimentality, is breathtaking.

The only solution I can see, at present, as the 'Israel experiment' has been allowed to go on for so long, is for Israel to get out of Palestine (UNFORTUNATELY, only to the 1967 border) and leave behind all those lovely hilltop towns (with swimming pools and up-to-date infrastructure, including stolen water as REPARATIONS.

This quote from funding Palestinian reparations: "Israeli settlements can also be considered as a potential part of an Israeli contribution to a compensation package. The potential value of ex-settler housing stock is uncertain, depending on the outcome of territorial negotiations, the number of settlers electing to remain in the West Bank and Gaza, and the method used to value housing stock (purchase price? potential selling price? Israeli government compensation amounts for settlers? house construction or replacement costs?) Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that this might be worth between $280 million and $1.4 billion, providing housing for between 84,000 and 210,000 returnees."

Please don't say, 'Israel did withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, and look what we got back? Rockets'. What did you expect when Israel razed the beautiful 'settler' homes and then made Gaza into the biggest open air prison in the world which Israel, on occasion, with self-justification, fires on, bombs and kills civilians'?

Israel can never be legitimate. The best solution is complete withdrawal from Palestine with no meddling in Palestinian affairs, such as, Israel's insistence that Palestine be demilitarized. Ironically, Palestine didn't have a standing army--I rest my case.

100% in agreement ! Zionism, just like apartheid will soon become an ugly relic .

No nation established on hate can continue, the same applies to America.

Afrikaners brutalized the population for over 300 years, no one thought it would ever end. Zionists and AIPAC feel the same way. Collective delusion .

What goes around, comes around.

A fairly meaningless comment, don't you think? This has nothing to do with "karma, " but rather with censorship. I've traveled extensively and lived in a number of countries, and sadly, among developed countries, the US currently has the most muzzled press and the most tightly defined areas of "acceptable political discourse" of any of them. And yet many Americans undoubtedly still think of the States as the country which most values and protects freedom of speech. What a sick joke.

Some people are knocking her because of this stance. But, I can't say anything against her or her anti-Zionism stance. It's not just because she's a Black woman either. I admire Alice Walker to the hilt because of her Blackness, intelligent, keen insight, and her passion for truth.

I highly respect her views on politics, world relations, civil rights in this country, and her latest grandstanding on the plight of Palestinians.

I think more and more "celebrities" or people of note should be expressive for the cause of humanity, peace, and justice.

Being black, or being a woman, or being an activist, does not make you 'right' in every belief you have. (Ain't nobody Jesus Christ...) Remember, no matter what, Ms. Walker has an agenda. Period. (Doesn't mean that she is wrong, it jest means that she has an agenda, and as such, that has to influence her perspective...)

As far as 'celebrities ... should be more expressive..' Why does the fact that someone who makes their living as being someone who pretends to be imaginary people, make them qualified to speak on subjects like this? Why would they not be qualified to perform an emergency gall bladder operation? Or, next thing you know, you'll be saying they could run for the President. (Wait, someone did... LOL)

Rather than attempt to trivialize the horrid conditions imposed upon the people of Palestine with some immature racist humor, why not read the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Prof. ilan Pappe and checkout his lectures on You Tube.

The discussion is not about Ms. Walker, it is about the filth and evil of Zionism.

Read also the words of David Ben Gurion, Yossef Weifz, the military records of the IDF, Der Judenstatt, the Village Files and Plan Dalet.

The truth hurts the oppressors.

Why would I want to read anything on this subject? You have already 'poisoned' the objectivity by your words: "..it's about the filth and evil of Zionism." Those eight words tell me everything I would want to know about your position. It tells me that there are no people, no words, no deeds, that would affect your position, or change your mind.

“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” - Thomas Paine

Is this really surprising of the University of Michigan? It has become a business first and a fraud utmost. The median family income has risen tremendously in the past few years, it is a public school for the rich. Might as well be private - developing that type of mentality in the privileged student body anyway.

UM used to stand for something now its all $$$, welcome to life in endless war folks.

Although I am sure the Alabama literary community would love to claim Alice Walker, she was born in Georgia, and most of her youth was not spent in Montgomery, Alabama.

You are quite right. She grew up in Georgia. That was my error and I corrected it. Thanks for catching it!

The entire state university system of Michigan is being compromised by its collusion with Zionist political and economic interests. See also: http://mondoweiss.net/2012/11/.... The ongoing, heightening neoliberal defunding of the university system is largely responsible for this terribly compromised and increasingly oppressive situation. See: http://electronicintifada.net/.... In short, there is little or no academic freedom in the state university system of Michigan--or at most other state universities in the U.S., for that matter. The U of California, for further example, which is fighting valiantly against Zionist censorship, is now run by former FBI director Janet Napolitano, which certainly bodes ill for that system.

I think that you are exactly right. As universities depend more on private donations, and less on tuition and government subsidies, they are losing their abilities to function as independent institutions. A University should be a place of discussion, where all views are taught and debated.
University isn't what it used to be. Students are no longer encouraged to push the envelope, and that's a damn shame.

If I can just augment what you've said, Corporate media's tit for tat 'objectivity' is infecting everything. Their reporting is one of, "Dems say this while Reps say that," but the fact is one of the two has a better argument, and the objectivity would be pointing that out, not searching for something evil in each party. I say evil, cuz' the media sensationalizes rather than informs. Were it not for sites like EI here, there'd be no Palestinian side presented, and they do have a tragic one that the world has allowed for decades, and though the UN Sec Council has made resolutions to get Israel to stop its oppressions, it was the UN that helped to begin the conflict by arrogantly stepping in and awarding Zionists through partitioning with 55% of Palestine though Palestinians had the majority population and even if the UN wanted to ease world guilt over Hitler's Holocaust by awarding Jews parts of Palestine. Zionists does not include all Jews.
Corporate media via TV, has an agenda, and it is to be a profit generating entity, just as the banks today are also.They present fluff as news, but they're just filling time until they can insert another set of TV ads. If the only place anyone gets their news is over the air TV, or even in some cases, cable, they are one ill-informed person.
And when a journalist who writes an article questioning whether journalists should even fact-check their articles, and his training came from a University, or conservative thinktanks, well that is a sorry state of affairs for journalism. And yes, I tend to go with what Progressives report and how they couch reality, but even they sometimes falter and drop the ball. Alice Walker I've always admired, my being from the South, and racism, though pounded in, never took hold in my mind, hidden bias notwithstanding, and the Palestinians daily life is similar to the racist South I lived in, as I recall seeing the White and Colored Only signs in stores like Roses 5 and 10 Department Store.

Academic freedom is becoming skewed by big money interest and this is obvious.Unfortunately those with the most money are taking control over what is said in academia.Thanks to ei ,we still have a voice . Zionism will prove itself to be a curse for the Jewish people.
True freedom and truth will not be denied!

Whether or not I agree with her comments (I do), Alice Walker is a remarkable woman and an amazing writer. How any university could turn her down because of her stance on a country halfway around the world destroys me.

I'm Jewish and I am tired of people equating being anti-Israel with being anti-semitic. Recently in Toronto, the city executive council voted to make the term "Israeli Apartheid" hate speech. I have never been discriminated against by people who were anti-Israel. They can separate the religion and the country, just like I can separate Islam and Iran. Jew does not equal Israel and Israel does not equal Jew. People who are anti-Israel are not anti-Judaism. It is not hate speech.

So very true Le Sigh.Most people do not differentiate the differences and I do believe that the Zionist movement wants it that way.It is unfortunate for the Jewish people such as yourself to be caught up in this total violation of Palestinian Human Rights due to semantics being used to transmit lies and half truths.
Stay true to yourself ,the truth will win out and the crimes will be exposed.

America has gone so low that its institutions of higher learning cannot even take alternative opinion,today as a kenyan and african i appreciate that the U.S claim of freedom only exists in text but not practical...for Alice walker and other african americans should understand the price they had to pay for there freedom ....Palestine will be free....

So..... essentially the university donor, by withholding funding, is boycotting the university/Women’s center if they allow Walker to speak. At the same time he probably complains loudly about anyone boycotting Israel for its continued occupation of Palestine. Tough :P

The tiger Israel will not be changing its stripes any time soon.

There is something of Lewis Carroll's Alice here as well, not only Ms Walker.
Free Speech for me, but not for thee.
I hold no brief for Israel-- and I am broadly sympathetic to the idea that one should boycott that which supports something one opposes, such as Ms Walker does vis-a-vis participating in any cultural exchange with Israel.
But come now, do you really believe that an organization which opposes your side of the issue should nonetheless underwrite your speech?
You can boycott Israel, but an organization that supports Israel can't boycott YOU?
Let's not insult anyone's intelligence. This is simply a question of whose ox is being gored here. There's no "Free Speech" issue involved. It is a matter of UM believing they need the donors' money more than the controversy-- a purely economic decision.
If no taxpayer money is involved, and there were no need for these donors' money because alternative funding was available, then any refusal to let Ms Walker speak would be strictly out of order. (As would a refusal to let Ann Coulter speak, under similar circumstances, much as many would find any speech by her to be distasteful.)
Anyone convinced of the righteousness of their own cause has nothing to fear from letting the other side have its say-- as long as it is on the other side's dime and not yours. Alms for one's own, not for unbelievers, and withdrawal of sanction by withdrawal of money, is as valid a method of jihad as any.
But just expect they'll do you the same way, too-- so no complaining.