Angela Davis Clears The Air About BDS, Palestine, And Award Controversy

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Clarkisha Kent Jan, 14, 2019

At the beginning of January, the city of Birmingham, Alabama found itself at the center and eye of a full-on media storm when it was announced that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute had decided to revoke their decision to award the Fred. L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award to civil rights activist and icon Angela Davis.

Many found the move puzzling, considering the institute released the announcement that Davis earned the award back in September 2018. But after many began to ask questions, including Randall Woodfin, the Mayor of Birmingham, it was discovered that the sudden rescinding came after the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center drafted a letter on January 2nd to the board of the civil rights institute. The letter lambasted Davis and her support of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions)—claiming that BDS “is troubling” and “targets the Jewish people excessively”.

Democracy Now! was able to catch up with Davis and get her thoughts on the matter. She had a brief chuckle about the irony of the revocation, seeing as she actually knew and attended school with Fred Shuttlesworth, but she later went on to discuss her initial reaction to the matter, how she feels about being at the center of this controversy, and what her thoughts are when it comes to BDS and Palestinian rights becoming part of mainstream political discourse.

On her initial reaction:

Last Saturday, I surmised, shortly before they released the statement, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute contacted me and simply read the statement to me. When I made requests to them to offer me more substantive reasons for the rescission of the award, I was met with responses, very abstract responses, such as, “It’s a matter of public record.” And so, during the very brief phone call, I really did not know what it was that had caused them to take that position. It was only after, I was informed, that an article had appeared in the magazine Southern Jewish Life that basically detailed some of my activism around Palestinian human rights, for BDS, against some of the policies and practices of the state of Israel.

On being at the center of this controversy:

I don’t know whether I enjoy being at the center of the controversy; I think I’ve had my share of controversies in my life. But I’m happy to assist in the process of encouraging more discussion on racism, on anti-Semitism, on justice for Palestine.

On BDS and Palestinian rights becoming part of mainstream discourse:

It’s actually quite exciting to see the issue of Palestinian justice, justice for Palestine, emerge as a topic of popular discourse. We have attempted for so long to encourage a conversation like this.

Since the controversy first erupted, support for Davis has poured out from every imaginable corner. From her hometown of Birmingham (including the city council and the school board) to a whopping 350 academics signing a letter in support of Davis (which was organized by the likes of Jewish Voice for Peace), it is safe to say that many are not only for Davis and her continued activism in these areas but are also serious about dispelling misinformation when it comes to the advocacy of Palestinian human rights and the role that BDS plays.