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Author refuses permission for Israeli company to publish The Color Purple

February 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Portrait of American author, poet, and activist Alice Walker on the Michigan State University campus, East Lansing, April 31, 1998. [Douglas Elbinger/Getty Images]

World-renowned author Alice Walker has refused to give permission to an Israeli company, Yediot Books, to publish her award-winning novel, The Color Purple.

Citing Israel’s “apartheid policies”, Ms Walker wrote in a letter dated 9 June, “It isn’t possible for me to permit this at this time for the following reason… Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.”

The Color Purple, which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, was filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1985 and nominated for 11 Oscars. Both the book and film deal with racism in the American South in the first part of the 20th century.

During the 1980s, Walker also refused permission for the movie adaptation of her book to be screened in apartheid South Africa.

Walker’s move has been welcomed by the South African Artists Against Apartheid collective and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which described it as a significant “victory” for the cultural boycott of Israel.

Read the Alice Walker’s below:

Letter from Alice Walker to Publishers at Yediot Books

This letter is published with author’s permission.

June 9, 2012
Dear Publishers at Yediot Books,

Thank you so much for wishing to publish my novel THE COLOR PURPLE.  It isn’t possible for me to permit this at this time for the following reason:  As you may know, last Fall in South Africa the Russell Tribunal on Palestine met and determined that Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.  The testimony we heard, both from Israelis and Palestinians (I was a jurist) was devastating.  I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse.  Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than  what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long.

It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.

In that regard, I offer an earlier example of THE COLOR PURPLE’s engagement in the world-wide effort to rid humanity of its self-destructive habit of dehumanizing whole populations.  When the film of The Color Purple was finished, and all of us who made it decided we loved it, Steven Spielberg, the director, was faced with the decision of whether it should be permitted to travel to and be offered to the South African public.  I lobbied against this idea because, as with Israel today, there was a civil society movement of BDS aimed at changing South Africa’s apartheid policies and, in fact, transforming the government.

It was not a particularly difficult position to hold on my part:  I believe deeply in non-violent methods of social change though they sometimes seem to take forever, but I did regret not being able to share our movie, immediately, with (for instance) Winnie and Nelson Mandela and their children, and also with the widow and children of the brutally murdered, while in police custody, Steven Biko, the visionary journalist and defender of African integrity and freedom.

We decided to wait.  How happy we all were when the apartheid regime was dismantled and Nelson Mandela became the first president of color of South Africa.

Only then did we send our beautiful movie!  And to this day, when I am in South Africa, I can hold my head high and nothing obstructs the love that flows between me and the people of that country.

Which is to say, 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.  I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen.  But now is not the time.

We must continue to work on the issue, and to wait.

In faith that a just future can be fashioned from small acts,

Alice Walker