A better way
We watched this past week as the University of Michigan invited, disinvited,
then re-invited Alice Walker — Pulitzer Prize-winning author and noted anti-Israel
activist — to speak on its campus, wondering if there was some better way
to handle this awkward situation.
There was: Ignore the whole thing.
Walker, the author of “The Color Purple,” and a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, particularly supports
a cultural boycott of Israel and its institutions. She even refused to allow
her novel to be translated into Hebrew.
Nevertheless, Michigan extended an invitation to her to speak at a celebration
marking the 50th anniversary of its Center for the Education of Women. The
university later withdrew the invitation because, according its director, Gloria
D. Thomas, Walker wasn’t the “optimum choice for the celebratory nature of our
50th anniversary event.”
Walker tells a different version of the story. She took to her blog to say donors
to the university who didn’t like her anti-Israel activities had targeted her.
Walker quoted her agent who wrote in an email that the university instructed
him to withdraw the 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.”
Thomas denied donors played a role in the center’s decision to withdraw
Now, we learn that the university will invite Walker to speak in a public forum
on campus. Provost Martha Pollack, said in a letter to university faculty that
the center and the Department of Afro-American and African Studies plan to
Meanwhile, the center apologized to Walker for the way the situation was
All’s well that ends well? Hardly.
This comedy of errors made a martyr out of Walker, a hero to many, and the
author will be in greater demand now than ever before. In the future, she will
have an even bigger soapbox from which to preach her anti-Israel message.
The whole thing is a mess.
How should it have been handled? It’s too much to suggest Walker shouldn’t
have been invited in the first place; she’s a long time activist on women’s issues. It
actually made sense for the center to invite her.
Once it was done though, the best course of action was to ignore it. Likely,
Walker would not have launched an anti-Israel attack during the speech, which
have been inappropriate for a program celebrating a women’s center.
We don’t know if the university buckled to donor pressure when disinviting
Walker. We do know campus venues are fertile ground for anti-Israel speakers.
It’s impossible to stop them all.
But it is possible to minimize the attention they garner. Had Walker’s invitation
not been withdrawn, she would have gone to Ann Arbor, made her speech and
attracted little media attention.
Now, she’s making national headlines. Sometimes the best response is no response at all.