Bay Area Book Festival Statement on our Decision to Rescind our Invitation to Alice Walker for the 2022 Festival

April 28, 2022

Further updated from our earlier statement of April 22, 2022
Cherilyn Parsons & Festival Board

A great deal of misinformation has been spread about our decision to rescind our invitation to Alice Walker to appear in an event with another author at the eighth annual Bay Area Book Festival. Here we will correct some of the most egregious pieces of misinformation and then will return to our account of April 22 describing the basis and process of this difficult decision. We’ll also provide accurate information that can speak to the concerns of those who disagree with the decision. It has been distressing to have our actions so misrepresented.

First, to address a recent piece of active disinformation: It is false to state that Ms. Walker was disinvited to the Bay Area Book Festival after Zionist groups threatened to carry out protests. There were never any Zionist groups, nor threats of protests. Nor was there any Israel lobby that contacted the Festival at any point, nor capitulation by us to any outside pressure. Our decision was based solely on our determination, shared by numerous other cultural organizations and news outlets, that Ms. Walker’s promotion of the conspiracy theories and disinformation of David Icke is dangerous. A quick online search reveals his profound antisemitism, as well as his arguments that Covid-19 is a hoax. Details appear below.

No public figure is above questioning. As Ms. Walker has toured for her new book, there has been increasing public outcry against events and interviews that fail to address her ongoing endorsement of Icke. The Festival has received many messages of support for its decision, which we stand by.

Returning to the process of our decision-making, with edits for clarification made to the following statement of April 22:

The decision to rescind our invitation was wrenching because the Festival’s staff and board deeply admire and respect Ms. Walker for her remarkable literary work. We were thrilled when she agreed to take part in a program we designed to celebrate the lineage of Black women writers in America. We likewise greatly honor her activism. We’ve created hundreds of platforms at our Festival for issues of concern for those who are criticizing the Festival’s decision. As just one example, with generous donor support we flew in a Palestinian writer to be featured in one of our programs focused on the Palestinian cause (see Changing the Conversation about Israel and Palestine, Behind the Headlines in Palestine, and Kingdom of Olives and Ash).

Our decision to disinvite Ms. Walker had nothing to do with her position on Palestine, her voice as a Black woman writer, or her right to speak her mind freely. We honor all those things. We also do not hold that she is antisemitic. (To be pro-Palestinian does not mean a person is antisemitic, just as to be Jewish does not mean that one is anti-Palestine.)

Our decision was based purely on Ms. Walker’s inexplicable, ongoing endorsement of David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who dangerously promulgates such beliefs as that Jewish people bankrolled Hitler, caused the 2008 global financial crisis, and staged the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also argues that Covid-19 is a conspiracy spread by Jews. (See his book “And the Truth Shall Set You Free,” available full-text on the Internet Archive, and his many more recent online articles and Youtube videos). Icke also regularly promotes “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a fabricated, uber-antisemitic text that was widely read during the time of social upheaval in pre-WWII Germany and turned public sentiment against Jews—a truly dangerous document for any populace to embrace. Finally, we note that Ms. Walker provided financial support for, and participation in, a documentary celebrating Icke and his work.

In our statement of April 4, we linked to articles that summarize the many hateful claims made by Icke, and the controversy over Ms. Walker’s ongoing endorsement of him. We provide some of them here again. This Vox article summarizes the New York Times controversy. A Tablet article, on author Cheryl Strayed’s quick and horrified removal of her interviews of Ms. Walker once she learned about the Icke endorsement, also notes that Icke was banned from Facebook and YouTube for claiming that the coronavirus had been created by Jews. Forward dissects the claims of Ms. Walker around Icke and antisemitism.

Ms. Walker has promoted Icke’s ideas frequently on her blog (see the entire category). One post features Icke’s Youtube interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars. Ms. Walker’s caption: “I like these two because they’re real, and sometimes Alex Jones is a bit crazy; many Aquarians are. Icke only appears crazy to people who don’t appreciate the stubbornness required when one is called to a duty it is impossible to evade.” Jones has supported white nationalists and has spread disinformation about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and September 11 attacks, among other tragedies. These are the ideas that the public can discover by going to Ms. Walker’s website.

Ms. Walker has doubled down on her support of Icke as recently as 2021, in this blog post responding to Hudson Valley Community College’s disinvitation of her as a virtual commencement speaker.

Because of Ms. Walker’s celebrity, her endorsements carry weight. People will run to buy a book that a major author recommends. The Bay Area Book Festival couldn’t encourage the dissemination of these ideas.

The Festival considered whether it was fair to disinvite someone simply because of their endorsement of another person’s ideas. As an institution which supports the preservation of the right to free speech and dispute, we did not make this decision lightly, but the character of Icke’s views and Ms. Walker’s repeated endorsement of them compelled it. While we do not dispute Ms. Walker’s right to subscribe to unpopular ideas, we felt that the Festival should not be placed in a position of endorsing in any way such misinformed and outrageous theories.

Some valued advisors in our community shared some analogies—not perfect, but still instructive:

  • Would we allow a renowned writer on our stage who is known for, and unapologetic about, his friendship with KKK leader David Duke, even referring our audience to Duke’s writings and videos?
  • How about an author who says that she herself doesn’t espouse ideas about eugenics, but she recommends a writer who does? Or one who demonizes LGBTQI people?

When we initially invited Ms. Walker, we were aware of a controversy, but thought it was long past, a matter of history. We were focused on her remarkable writing career and the moral force of her human rights commitments. But when respected authors, readers, and community members informed us of Ms. Walker’s continuing and emphatic endorsements of Icke and his hate-filled work, we needed to reconsider. We regret that we did not do more initial vetting of her. After we did more research, our decision was clear.

An Atlantic article, “Don’t Cancel Alice Walker. Hold her Accountable,” suggests that event producers should put Ms. Walker on stage to be asked directly about the controversy. We believe this is an excellent idea, but the design of the Bay Area Book Festival’s event with her, a conversation with another writer, was such that we could not do this.

The Festival respects and in many ways shares the values and concerns espoused by the signatories of the letter sent by the “Committee to Defend Alice Walker.” We are an ally, not an enemy, but unfortunately, this Committee did not contact us to learn more about our decision before initiating a campaign driven by misinformation and, it seemed to us, the personal causes of the petitioners.

We hope that this narrative can help dispel misinformation and misunderstandings around our decision. The Festival reiterates its commitment to serve as a forum for underrepresented voices and cultures and to support the principles of peaceful and open discussion.

Original Statement, April 4, 2022 It has come to our attention that disinformation is spreading regarding our decision not to move forward with an event that was to feature author Alice Walker. We wish to provide a correct account. Our decision to rescind our invitation to Ms. Walker for our upcoming festival had nothing to do with comments or positions she may have taken on Israel; nor did it have anything to do with her support of Palestine. We took this action due to her repeated endorsement, in The New York Times and elsewhere, of the work of David Icke, an antisemitic conspiracy theorist. (For further information on her endorsements and his work, please see this article in Tablet Magazine or this one from Vox.) We have long admired Ms. Walker’s literary work (honored with the Pulitzer Prize) and respected her social justice work. However, in our initial excitement in inviting her to the festival, we were not aware of the extent of her endorsement of Icke’s work, which presents ideas contrary to values we hold as an organization. When we became fully aware, we decided not to move forward. We consider Icke’s antisemitic remarks to be hate speech, and we did not wish to provide a platform that implies acceptance of such speech. Nor did we want this overall situation to harm other authors or the public at the festival.

A March 25 article in J. — The Jewish News of Northern California (also referred to as J-Weekly) under the headline “Alice Walker, author who has courted controversy about Israel and Jews, disinvited by Bay Area Book Festival,” implied a causative link between Walker’s opinions on Israel and Jews, and our decision to rescind her invitation. There is no such link; nor did we make one in the comment that the J-Weekly sought from us before publication. We believe that this headline and the article’s opening paragraph sparked the spread of misinformation about our decision. We requested a clarification, and the J-Weekly inserted the correct information on March 27 as a brief statement from the Festival beneath the article’s headline. But because this statement did not travel with the story as it was shared on social media, again we contacted J-Weekly, asking that the headline and first paragraph be actually revised to reflect the correction. J-Weekly made this change.*

We continue to move forward in planning an eighth annual festival that continues our tradition of celebrating great literature along with an awareness of important social issues.

* This paragraph corrects our earlier statement that the J-Weekly did not contact us for comment before the article’s publication; it did do so, and included what the Festival’s publicist stated at the direction of the Festival’s leadership, which was that Walker’s extensive history of making “controversial statements” was the reason her invitation was rescinded, and that the festival does not tolerate antisemitism. Once the J-Weekly understood the complete and correct information, it changed the headline and first paragraph to reflect the clarifications provided by the Festival.