What’s Alice Walker doing reading David Icke?

A Ms Magazine cover featuring Alice Walker and Gloria Steinem, from 2009Yesterday there was much indignation on Twitter and elsewhere that the New York Times had published an interview with the novelist and poet Alice Walker which contained a recommendation of a book by David Icke, the British public speaker best known for weird conspiracy theories with an anti-Semitic edge. That Walker has these attitudes is not new, but some people were very upset that one of their literary heroes whose books celebrate women’s liberation and civil rights could be a bigot herself; in fact, she has been expressing these views since about 2013 (at least) and last year published a ‘poem’ (if that’s the word for a series of lines without any discernible rhythm) about Jews, Judaism and Zionism that uses well-rehearsed tropes about the Talmud, the classical Jewish commentary on the Torah. Yair Rosenberg’s article, “The New York Times Just Published an Unqualified Recommendation for an Insanely Anti-Semitic Book” on The Tablet, has been widely tweeted on the subject but it contains one dubious claim: that David Icke is “one of Britain’s most notorious anti-Semites” and “one of the most influential conspiracy theorists in Europe, and certainly in Britain”. He really is not.

David Icke is not taken seriously enough to be a notorious anti-Semite. The fact that he has “over 770,000 followers on Facebook” means nothing as following someone does not mean approving of everything, or indeed anything, they say. In the 1980s he was a sports correspondent and appeared on the Saturday sports show Grandstand and was also a spokesman for the Green Party (they had four principal spokespeople in place of a leader), but is best known here for having claimed to be the “son of the Godhead” in the early 90s and predicting the end of the world by 1997. Although he subsequently admitted that this was “not the real David Icke talking”, his subsequent writings descended into the conspiracy theories he is now best known for. Essentially he is a national joke; his name is a byword for crankery and certainly many more people know about his claiming divinity than anything about his previous career. I was in my early teens when the whole controversy broke and my reaction was “who?”. I assumed his surname was spelled Eyke, the name of a village near the boarding school I was in at the time (then again, I had no time for football). For clarity, his name is pronounced Ike, as in Ike Turner.

He is not a renowned writer or thinker who also has abhorrent views. He is not in the same league as GK Chesterton, Ezra Pound or Roald Dahl and certainly not of Alice Walker. I am sure many British people were bemused at hearing that someone like her would even read a David Icke book, let alone recommend one, because he has no stature whatever here. Yes, he does give public lectures and sells out a few concert halls here and there but they are not big stadia. Perhaps this is a sign of how popular his ideas are or perhaps they are people who remember him from his Grandstand days and just want to hear him, even if he is talking nonsense. A few years ago, during one of Tom Jones’s comebacks during which he sang embarrassing songs like Sex Bomb which bore no resemblance to his old hits, I asked my mother why anyone listened to this stuff. She said, “they just like Tom Jones; it doesn’t matter what he’s singing”. I don’t really understand seeing a performer whose material has changed beyond recognition from what you liked (then again, Tom Jones still sang It’s Not Unusual alongside Sex Bomb), but given that his ideas about 12ft lizards (and his other theories) have not exactly gone mainstream, I cannot think of any other reason.

Some of the commentary has focussed on Walker’s past pro-Palestinian activism, including taking part in the 2011 flotilla to Gaza. The implication is that if you’re against Israel in any way, it’s a slippery slope to full-blown anti-Semitism. The simple answer to that is that some people are pro-Palestinian for its own sake, some because they are Muslim (or Christian) and some because they hate Jews and it’s not always easy to tell the latter because they do not always reveal themselves until they have been around you for a while (Gilad Atzmon springs to mind, and being Israeli helped). However, being accused of anti-Semitism is an occupational hazard for anyone who defends Palestinians’ rights because to their enemies, anyone who does not share their hatred is automatically a racist, much as any media outlet that does not treat the Palestinians’ rights with the contempt they have for them must be guilty of bias.

But much as it’s possible to be a Zionist for essentially anti-Semitic reasons, the same is true of supporting Palestinians, and right now a lot of people are heartbroken that a writer they admired so much turned out to not only be a bigot, but an extremely ignorant one at that.

Image source: Ms. magazine, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 4.0 licence, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47476755.

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