Ayanna Pressley condemns anti-Semitism after quoting Alice Walker

"Unfortunately, I was unaware of the author’s past statements."

01/12/2019 Boston Ma - Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (cq) , blows a kiss to the crowd, at her Community Swearing-in at Roxbury Community College. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe StaffReporter:Topic:
Rep. Ayanna Pressley blows a kiss to the crowd, at her community swearing-in Saturday at Roxbury Community College. –Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe

Rep. Ayanna Pressley is making amends for quoting Alice Walker in a tweet last week, after the newly sworn-in Massachusetts congresswoman was made aware of the acclaimed author’s alleged history of anti-Semitism.

“I fully condemn and denounce anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry in all their forms – and the hateful actions they embolden,” Pressley tweeted Monday afternoon.

Walker, a pioneering social justice activist and author, who won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for her 1982 book “The Color Purple,” came under scrutiny last month after she recommended a book by David Icke, a retired British soccer player and professional conspiracy theorist. Walker has been a vocal critic of Israel and its treatment of Palestine; however, the 74-year-old’s endorsement of Icke resulted in a closer, public examination of her own recent history of making allegedly anti-Semitic statements (both Icke and Walker dispute the notion they’re anti-Semitic).

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Pressley quoted Walker last week after a video of fellow freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing as a Boston University student was circulated online. After Ocasio-Cortez responded to the attempted smear with a brief video of herself dancing outside her office, Rep. Ilhan Oman, another first-year congresswoman, tweeted in support, “If we can’t dance it’s not our revolution.”

That prompted Pressley to chime in as well, quoting poetry by Walker, “Hard times require furious dancing.”

Noting the recent controversy, a number of the Dorchester Democrat’s followers replied asking her to reconsider quoting Walker, even if they supported the general sentiment. Jeremy Burton, the executive director of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council, says that Pressley personally reached out to him Sunday, as well as others in the Jewish community.

“Rep. Pressley was genuinely surprised to learn about the recent contretemps.” Burton tweeted, thanking the congresswoman for her statement Monday.

In her statement, Pressley said that “The Color Purple” “carried deep meaning for me.”

“Unfortunately, I was unaware of the author’s past statements,” she said.

“I appreciate my friends, including my brothers and sisters in the Jewish community, who brought these statements to my attention,” Pressley added.

The appreciation appears to be mutual, as a number of prominent Jewish writers and activists, including Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, thanked Pressley for her remarks Monday.

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