The New York Times is defending its decision to run writer Alice Walker’s recommendation of a book authored by a known conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite.
Walker, whose work as an activist, novelist and poet is widely beloved and referenced, recommended David Icke’s And the Truth Shall Set You Free in the Times’ “By the Book” series. The weekly column asks notable personalities to dish on books and writers who have influenced them or that they’re currently reading. Icke’s inclusion stuck out to many—and as the Guardian writes, the author and public speaker has “long propounded a series of conspiracy theories in his work that many see as antisemitic.”
The Washington Post pulled one excerpt from And the Truth Shall Set You Free, which reads:
“I strongly believe that a small Jewish clique which has contempt for the mass of Jewish people worked with non-Jews to create the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Second World War.”
The Post notes that Icke also wrote that “Nazi extermination ... was ‘coldly calculated by the ‘Jewish’ elite.’”
Walker, who said the book was on her nightstand, said the British author’s books invoke “the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about.”
Icke’s work is “a curious person’s dream come true,” she added.
While many were offended at the book’s very inclusion—and what it said about Walker herself—some also expressed disappointment with the Times for not qualifying the controversial work.
“By the Book is an interview and portrait of a public person through the lens of books; it is not a list of recommendations from our editors,” a spokesperson for the Times wrote in a statement following the backlash.
“The subject’s answers are a reflection on that person’s personal tastes, opinions and judgments. As with any interview, the subject’s answers do not imply an endorsement by Times editors,” the statement continued, adding that editors do not “offer background or weigh in on the books named.”
“Many people recommend books Times editors dislike, disdain or even abhor in the column,” the statement read.
It should be noted that this isn’t the first time Walker—whose Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, is considered a cultural touchstone—has been accused of anti-Semitism. The most galling example may be a 2017 poem entitled “It Is Our (Frightful) Duty,” which begins as a defense of Palestine (and, ironically, against accusations that she’s an anti-Semite) but quickly devolves into a tangled, messy takedown of the Talmud, a Jewish religious text.
At one point, Walker writes:
For a more in depth study
I recommend starting with YouTube. Simply follow the trail of “The
Talmud” as its poison belatedly winds its way
Into our collective consciousness.
Writer Roxane Gay and filmmaker Rebecca Pierce were among those who critiqued and expressed disappointment in Walker, especially considering the importance of her work in addressing racism and misogyny.
As the Post notes, she’s professed her admiration for Icke’s work before, comparing the conspiracy theorist to Malcolm X.
From the Post:
“Do I believe everything? I don’t think it matters,” she wrote, recommending videos of Icke’s appearances to her followers. She once recommended a video of a conversation between Icke and Alex Jones, the conspiracy kingpin and founder of Infowars. “I like these two because they’re real,” she offered.