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May 25, 2022 12:20 pm

San Diego Community College District Cancels Ceremony Over Planned Alice Walker Appearance


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Skyline of San Diego, California. Photo: David Mark/Pixabay

The San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) has cancelled an investiture ceremony that was set to feature Alice Walker as keynote speaker, after a backlash over her past antisemitic writings and views, it announced on Monday.

In a statement, SDCCD Chancellor Carlos Cortez, who was to be officially inaugurated in his role at the May 31 event, acknowledged concerns in recent over the “political beliefs and writings” of Walker, the author of “The Color Purple.”

Her work has drawn harsh scrutiny for its discussion of Jews and Israel, including for a a 2017 poem in which suggested that one should “study The Talmud” and its “poison” to comprehend the “evil” allegedly perpetrated by Israel.

“Over the past few weeks, concerns have been expressed about the political beliefs and writings of the investiture keynote speaker, Alice Walker. At the same time, others have expressed their support of Ms. Walker,” Cortez said Monday. “As a district that celebrates inclusion, we believe the best way forward would be to cancel the event altogether. I apologize for the pain caused to any member of our community.”

According to City Times, the ceremony would have been attended by California’s Secretary of State and State Senate Pro Tempore.

Walker’s work touched off a public debate in 2018, when she touted her affinity for the writings of David Icke, who has promoted conspiracies about the Rothschild family and accused Jews of financing the Holocaust, in an interview with The New York Times Book Review. At the time, the Anti-Defamation League noted that Icke “has a long history of scapegoating Jews,” and criticized the paper for airing Walker’s “unqualified endorsement” of the notorious conspiracy theorist’s work.

SDCCD officials initially refused to remove Walker from the upcoming event’s lineup, telling The San Diego Union Tribune earlier this month that she is a “Pulitzer Prize winning author” and that “her participating is consistent with the District’s support of the free exchange of ideas and opinions.”

The invitation reprised conversations about her past among the San Diego Jewish community. Rabbi Jason Nevarez of San Diego’s Congregation Beth Israel told the Union-Tribune that SDCCD appeared to lack “any awareness of the community’s concerns, or perhaps, any upset her words may cause the College District’s Jewish community.”

“The College District has every right to honor the free exchange of opinions and idea,” Nevarez said. “Yet, when an individual (especially their keynote) labels me and my community with such disdain (someone I have never even met by the way), [that] goes beyond the pale.”

The ADL’s San Diego Regional Director, Tammy Gillies, also commented, telling the paper it was “incredibly disappointing that Cortez or someone from his office would invite Alice Walker, who really, as we know, has been using antisemitic rhetoric for years. And it’s very hurtful to the Jewish community.”

The SDCCD announcement Monday came weeks after the Bay Area Book Festival disinvited Walker from an event, declaring that the author’s “promotion of the conspiracy theories and disinformation of Davis Icke is dangerous.”

Last September, Cortez responded to a controversial resolution passed by its representative union, that accused Israel of ethnic cleansing, offering “sincere thoughts to those who were offended” by the measure.

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