Book Review: "The Cushion in the Road" by Alice Walker

June 18, 2013

Alice Walker has a new book out called The Cushion in the Road, a collection of her “meditations” on a wide range of topics including the election of the nation’s first African-American president and advice for finding joy, clarity and purpose in life.

Given Walker’s unequivocal support and advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian people in recent years, it is perhaps not surprising that an 80-page section of the 350-page book is a compilation of her thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and diary-like accounts of her trips to the Palestinian territories.

What is shocking, however, is the extremely vitriolic and hateful rhetoric employed by Walker, the author of The Color Purple and a poet and activist. Her descriptions of Israel and Israelis can largely be described as anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic.


On the very first page of the “On Palestine” section, Walker details her disillusionment with Black churches whose leaders recount Biblical stories about the Israelites’ various triumphs and travails to inspire their congregations. She adds, “It amazes me, in these churches, that there is no discussion of that fact that the other behavior we learned about in the Bible stories: the rapes, the murders, the pillaging, the enslavement of the conquered, the confiscation of land, the brutal domination and colonization of all ‘others,’ is still front and center in Israel’s behavior today.”

Walker also shows a blatant lack of respect for ancient Jewish values and beliefs. She disputes the quintessential Jewish precept that the land of Israel is holy, arguing instead that all Earth is holy “but you can’t make any money off of that idea!” While it might be legitimate to debate whether a piece of land can have spiritual holiness, her off-the-cuff suggestion that the land is described as holy because of the financial benefits of doing so demonstrates her belief that Jews are intentionally being deceptive. This is a thinly veiled reference to the anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews are greedy and immoral when it comes to financial matters.

She also, on several occasions, seems to indicate that the purported evils of modern day Israel are a direct result of Jewish values. Walker alleges that Israelis behave the way they do because they believe in “Jewish supremacy.” She hypothesizes that Israeli settlement building is motivated by the concept that “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” a concept Walker says she “learned from my Jewish lawyer former husband. This belief might even be enshrined in the Torah.”


Her writing is heavily peppered with explicit comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, an analogy employed by the harshest of anti-Israel critics that is incontrovertibly anti-Semitic. Walker talks, for example, about the efforts to boycott the 2009 Toronto film festival because it planned to showcase Israeli filmmakers and says that the festival is comparable to “festivals in the past, festivals leading up to World War II,” which were designed to “make the bully look more respectable.”  When discussing Israel’s alleged theft of Palestinian land, Walker muses, “Can people who hunger so desperately for what other people have ever have enough? One thinks of Hitler, of course, and Napoleon; of the American generals who fought wars of conquest against Mexico and Cuba and the Philippines. Guatemala. Iraq. Afghanistan.”

She even reflects on an encounter with a young Israeli soldier at a checkpoint and says about the experience, “I couldn’t bring myself to use the “N” word, but I did say [to him]: Don’t you think this behavior – insulting, threatening, humiliating – makes you all seem rather Germanesque? I meant the old Germanesque of the late thirties and early forties, not the current Germanesque.”

A meeting she describes with an elderly Palestinian woman in the territories is telling about the impetus behind Walker’s hostile attitude towards Jews and Israelis. The woman, upon accepting a gift from Walker, says “May God protect you from the Jews” to which Walker responds, “It’s too late, I already married one.” Several paragraphs later, in a reference to her husband’s family and some Jews more broadly, she writes: “These were people who knew how to hate, and how to severely punish others, even those beloved, as he was.” [Walker divorced her first husband, a Jewish civil rights lawyer, in the 1970s. Their only daughter, who is also a writer, is estranged from her and has publicly accused Walker of neglect and of favoring “rabid feminism” over motherhood.]

In addition to Nazi Germany, Walker also explicitly analogizes the Palestinians’ situation with the civil rights era and discrimination against Blacks in the South in the mid-20th century. In this way, she seems to be in search of expressing the way she identifies with the Palestinian cause, acknowledging that “it is because I recognize the brutality with which my own multibranched ancestors have been treated that I can identify the despicable, lawless, cruel, and sadistic behavior that has characterized Israel’s attempts to erase a people, the Palestinians, from their own land.”

Demonization of Israel

Walker’s descriptions of the conflict are so grossly inaccurate and biased that the uninformed reader would almost certainly come away thinking that Israel is committing the greatest atrocity in the history of the world. She describes Israel’s actions as “genocide,” “crimes against humanity,” “cruelty and diabolical torture.” She even suggests that the majority of Palestinian children in Gaza have died, writing “the children of Gaza are dangerously malnourished (those who haven’t died) because of the years-long siege and blockade...” The parenthesis makes it seem as though Palestinian children are being slaughtered en masse. She also claims that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip keeps out “most” food, which is patently untrue.

Excuses for Palestinian Terrorism

Walker is careful to step on just about every possible rhetorical mine, even condoning terrorism against Israeli civilians. She claims that the existence of groups like Hamas is the result of an inability to resolve the situation using nonviolent means. She adds that she finds it “dishonest... that people claim not to understand the desperate, last ditch resistance involved in suicide bombings; blaming the oppressed for using their bodies where the Israeli army uses armored tanks.”

It is probably obvious, given Walker’s repeated condemnations of the Jewish state, that her solution to the conflict is “a one-state settlement” where Palestinians and Jews will, according to Walker, live together in peace. Her stark portrayal of Israelis’ evil nature, however, forces one to question how she could sincerely believe that Jews and Palestinians would peacefully co-exist in a single state. If Jews are, as Walker insists, supremacists, Nazis and the murderers of Palestinian children, it seems implausible that she truly envisions the solution to be a peaceful one.  

“It amazes me, in these [Black] churches, that there is no discussion of that fact that the other behavior we learned about in the Bible stories: the rapes, the murders, the pillaging, the enslavement of the conquered, the confiscation of land, the brutal domination and colonization of all ‘others,’ is still front and center in Israel’s behavior today.”