Richard Friedman
Jewish Federation director, Journalist

On being blasted by Alice Walker

It was the night before the night that Yom Kippur began. My wife Sally was half-dozing, half-watching TV in the den. The house was quiet and all the preparations for the people we’d have over two nights later for the break-the-fast meal that follows Yom Kippur were pretty much done.

So, I was sitting there next to her, in my chair fiddling with my iPhone, just googling and reading the news. And then I did something that most of us probably do every now and then — I googled myself. A lot came up, mostly stories I’ve written for news outlets and mention of my name in connection with Birmingham Jewish Federation happenings.

But then I noticed something I hadn’t been aware of. It turned out that I had been mentioned by name on famed writer Alice Walker’s blog. In fact, I was more than mentioned. Walker, author of the novel “The Color Purple,” had devoted substantial space to attacking me, presumably in 2013 though there was no date on the blog. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

In June, 2013, I had a commentary piece in the Wall Street Journal on Walker’s anti-Israel activities. The article focused specifically on her unsuccessful and widely-publicized plea to singer Alicia Keys to cancel an upcoming concert in Tel Aviv and join the growing number of artists who were boycotting Israel.

I also debunked Walker’s comparison of the plight of the Palestinians to the civil rights struggle in the American South, pointing out the differences in these two sagas.

Based on what she had written on her blog, Walker was not pleased. In addition to attacking me and what I had written, Walker ran the text of my Wall Street Journal article and added some disparaging and condescending comments including, “I trust that Mr. Friedman will make the effort to place the behavior of Israel of today, not the imagined one of over half a century ago, squarely in his sights.”

In my Wall Street Journal article, I had quoted Oliver Robinson, a well-known black Alabama state legislator and a former All-American basketball player at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Commenting in response to an item I posted on Facebook when Keys first turned down Walker’s plea, Robinson, a Facebook friend, had written, “She made an excellent decision.”

Robinson’s comment additionally perturbed Walker. “That a black acquaintance of Friedman’s is quoted as saying Keys made the right decision to go to Israel reminds me of how easy it can be to be used in an article of this kind,” she wrote. “This same person probably thinks Israel truly honors Africans and Ethiopian Jews because it crowns one young black Ethiopian woman it’s (sic) national beauty queen.”

The remainder of her blog attack against me, and Jews and Israel, got even worse than that. But at this point in the evening my wife Sally woke up from her nap on the couch. I told her about my discovery — that I had been attacked by Alice Walker on her blog.

Knowing of Walker’s implacable hostility toward Israel, which included blocking the release of a new Hebrew edition of her famous book “The Color Purple,” and urging other artists to boycott Israel, a smile appeared on Sally’s face. “I am so proud of you,” she said. “Being attacked by Alice Walker! Now that is a badge of honor — you should be proud!”

I am.

About the Author
Richard Friedman is Executive Director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation in Alabama. He also is a well-known Alabama journalist.