The U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) extends unwavering love, respect, and support to our sister and comrade, Dr. Angela Y. Davis.
We were shocked and appalled to learn on January 6th that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) rescinded the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award which was to be granted to Dr. Davis at a gala event in February. We were further saddened to learn that BCRI’s cancellation of Dr. Davis’ award was issued under pressure from sections of the Jewish community, in particular the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center (BHEC), on the spurious claim that Dr. Davis’ support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement is “anti-Semitic.”
The equation of BDS with antisemitism is baseless and incorrect. It banks upon a deeply entrenched history of distorted knowledge within the United States concerning the Palestinian struggle, as well as the relationship of African Americans to Zionism and the state of Israel.
African American revolutionaries have consistently recognized what Dr. Davis has referred to as the “indivisibility of justice,” thus borrowing directly from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 statement, “For me justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and repeatedly acknowledging the intersections of Black liberation with other liberation struggles, among them anti-colonial and indigenous peoples’ struggles such as the Palestinian liberation movement. The Black Panthers, for example, linked racial capitalism in the United States to Israeli policy and practices. The more recent Dream Defenders traveled to Palestine in 2015—a delegation that included Marc Lamont Hill and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors—and endorsed BDS, while Black artists, activists, scholars, students and organizations launched a statement of solidarity with Palestine.
This solidarity has been reciprocal. Palestinians were the first to show up in solidarity with the Ferguson uprising, fighting alongside on the ground, tweeting advice on how to deal with gas and other police tactics, and issuing an immediate statement of solidarity, which in part read: “From all factions and sectors of our dislocated society, we send you our commitment to stand with you in your hour of pain and time of struggle against the oppression that continues to target our black brothers and sisters in nearly every aspect of their lives.” A year before that, Students for Justice in Palestine released a statement following George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the cold-blooded murder of Trayvon Martin. During the prison strike across the United States, Palestinian prisoners wrote a public letter extending “solidarity to the prisoners in the jails of the United States participating in the national prison strike beginning on August 21, fighting exploitation, racism, and capitalism from within the heart of imperialist prisons.”
Black–Palestinian solidarity extends decades into the past. The connection is forged from parallel experiences, which have often converged due to the close ties between the United States and Israel. An example of this convergence can be seen in the fact that U.S. police forces across the country are being trained by Israel, bringing cruel tactics of suppression developed on the bodies of Palestinians to bear upon the bodies of Black, Brown, and Indigenous Americans. Black-Palestinian solidarity is invigorated by, and works in tandem with, other revolutionary struggles for freedom and justice, both within and beyond the United States.
Those who do not understand these organic connections fail to comprehend the abiding morality of African American revolutionaries and the unwavering love shared among those fighting for liberation and the simple right to live with dignity. They also fail to see that Black liberation movements in the United States have always opposed xenophobia in all its guises, including antisemitism. In fact, support for BDS is wholly consistent with this noble stance, not only because Zionism is another face of white supremacy, but because it is also antisemitic. To equate being Jewish with being Zionist falsely locates all persons of Jewish background within Zionism’s colonial-national rubric. USACBI recognizes in this context that while some Jewish organizations lobbied BCRI against Dr. Davis, they do not represent the Jewish community at large, parts of which have in fact issued statements condemning BCRI’s action.
Given the pressure from BHEC against honoring Dr. Davis, we take this opportunity to critique the cynical use of Europe’s holocaust to further Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine and to castigate Black–Palestinian solidarity. Indeed, the European holocaust—the systematic, industrialized mass murder of approximately twelve million human beings, including Jews, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, political resistors, LGBTQ people, religious dissidents, Slavic people, and the mentally and physically challenged, by the fascist German National Socialist regime during the Second World War—was, recalling Martinican revolutionary Aimé Césaire’s “boomerang effect,” an implementation of racist violence on a grand scale. While qualitatively distinct, it shares its structure with other genocides that have taken place during the long period of capitalist expansion. In the U.S. context, this includes the unadulterated killing of more than 50 million indigenous inhabitants of North America over a few short years and the brutal enslavement of Black Africans for hundreds of years by white colonial settlers of European descent.
Exploitation of the European holocaust to deny this savage history is an irony that does not escape us. It reminds us that solidarity with Palestinian liberation is often twisted and maligned in the interests of retaining white supremacy and the social systemic structures—apartheid, ethno-religious chauvinism, neocolonial political-economic relations—which support and enable it. As numerous scholars and intellectuals, including Dr. Davis, have correctly insisted, the memory of the European holocaust must not be used to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
BCRI’s false equation of BDS with antisemitism is an affront to the very project of anti-racism represented by Fred Shuttlesworth himself and the civil rights movement at large. BCRI in this respect undermines its own mission—a fact already recognized by three BCRI board members who have resigned their posts. With this self-contradictory act, BCRI has betrayed its ethical responsibility to condemn and instead submits to the forces of global oppression which have supported—and been supported by—Zionism for over a century.
We commend and treasure Dr. Davis and her “long-term support for justice for Palestine.” And we demand that BCRI formally apologize not only to Dr. Angela Y. Davis, but to generations of African Americans who fought, sacrificed, and continue to struggle for liberation. We further demand an apology to the Palestinian people, whose humanity and fight for the most basic human rights are denigrated by BCRI’s decision.