Angela Davis punished for supporting Palestinian rights

JVL Introduction

Veteran civil rights activist and communist Angela Davis has had a prestigous civil rights award she was due to receive withdrawn.

What appears to have caused the upset that led pressure from “local Jewish community and some of its allies [read evangelical Christian Zionists]” is her long-term support for  justice for Palestine.

A report in the Guardian is followed by Angela Davis’s response.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute under fire for rescinding Angela Davis honor

Institute says activist and professor ‘does not meet all criteria’ and that ‘concerned individuals’ asked it to reconsider

Davis, a Birmingham native, has spent decades fighting for civil rights. She was an active member of the Black Panther party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the US communist party. She is now an outspoken supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that protests Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. It is this ideological affinity that appears to have inspired the revocation of the BCRI honor.

BCRI president and chief executive Andrea Taylor said in October the institute would be “thrilled to bestow this honor” on Davis, who she said was “one of the most globally recognized champions of human rights, giving voice to those who are powerless to speak”.

But on Saturday the BCRI announced that in late December, “supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision”.

Its statement added that “upon closer examination of Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria” for the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights award.

The statement did not indicate what criteria it found Davis did not meet, or identify the origin of the requests to reconsider.

In a statement expressing “dismay”, Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin said the protests came from the “local Jewish community and some of its allies”. He called it a reactive and divisive decision and offered to facilitate dialogue in response.

On social media, many people responded with outrage. To some, the reference to “allies” was a critical clue. Sophie Ellman-Golan, an activist who works for the Women’s March, called the decision “disgraceful” but said she doubted Jews in Alabama could have effectively lobbied for such a move alone.

“The idea that Jews in Alabama – as opposed to the many Christian Zionists in Alabama – have the structural power to make this happen should give us pause,” she said. “‘It’s the Jews’ is an all-too-frequently-used explanation.”

Conservative evangelical Christians, who dominate the political landscape of the southern US, have long held strong Zionist positions for political and scriptural reasons.

Ahmad Ward, an 18-year-veteran of the BCRI who left in 2017, said he had “nothing but pure, profound love” for the Institute but called the decision to revoke Davis’s award an insult to the legacy of Shuttlesworth, a Birmingham minister and civil rights activist.

“I spent an inordinate amount of time with Fred L Shuttlesworth,” Ward wrote in a Facebook post. “He was a warrior. He was defiant. He was steadfast and solid.

“He WOULD NOT agree with this. I am personally offended at that statement. The unmitigated gall to assume that Fred L Shuttlesworth would be OK with the disrespect inflicted on Professor Davis is maddening.”

Marc Lamont Hill, a CNN contributor who was released after making pro-Palestinian remarks in a November speech, called the decision “shameful”.

“I stand with my dear sister and friend Angela Davis,” Hill wrote in a tweet.

According to the BCRI, which opened in 1992, recipients of the Fred Shuttlesworth award must “embody the principles that guided the American civil rights movement”, including the “philosophy of non-violence and reconciliation”.

Former winners include politicians John Lewis and Eleanor Holmes Norton, actor Danny Glover and attorney Bryan Stevenson.

This article was amended on 8 January 2019 to correct Sophie Ellman-Golan’s comments, which were mistakenly changed in the editing process.

See also Angela Davis: ‘There is an unbroken line of police violence in the US that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery’

Angela Davis’s response

On Saturday January 5, I was stunned to learn that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Board of Directors had reversed their previous decision to award me the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Although the BCRI refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action, I later learned that my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue. This seemed particularly unfortunate, given that my own freedom was secured – and indeed my life was saved – by a vast international movement. And I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to U.S. grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly. The rescinding of this invitation was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.

I support Palestinian political prisoners just as I support current political prisoners in the Basque Country, in Catalunya, in India, and in other parts of the world. I have indeed expressed opposition to policies and practices of the state of Israel, as I express similar opposition to U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to other discriminatory U.S. policies. Through my experiences at Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City and at Brandeis University in the late fifties and early sixties, and my subsequent time in graduate school in Frankfurt, Germany, I learned to be as passionate about opposition to antisemitism as to racism. It was during this period that I was also introduced to the Palestinian cause. I am proud to have worked closely with Jewish organizations and individuals on issues of concern to all of our communities throughout my life. In many ways, this work has been integral to my growing consciousness regarding the importance of protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The trip to Birmingham, where I was born and raised, to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, was certain to be the highlight of my year—especially since I knew Rev. Shuttlesworth personally and attended school with his daughter, Patricia, and because my mother, Sallye B. Davis, worked tirelessly for the BCRI during its early years. Moreover, my most inspirational Sunday School teacher Odessa Woolfolk was the driving force for the institute’s creation. Despite the BCRI’s regrettable decision, I look forward to being in Birmingham in February for an alternative event organized by those who believe that the movement for civil rights in this moment must include a robust discussion of all of the injustices that surround us.

Angela Y. Davis
January 7, 2019