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the 50th anniversary celebration of the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan had been withdrawn.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Calling the withdrawn invitation “Censorship by Purse String,” Walker wrote, “Such behavior, as evidenced by the donors, teaches us our weakness, which should eventually (and soon)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.
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?