Angela Davis is one of America’s most famed political activists, advocating for both racial equality and socialism, and she is currently a professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1969, California Governor Ronald Reagan tried to have her barred from teaching at any California university due to her membership in the Communist Party USA. To say she has been fighting for justice her entire life is an understatement. Speaking (writing) as someone who was raised Jewish, we are trained to identify people who fight injustice given how often we have been the victims of it throughout history, and my Spidey Senses are tingling right now. No matter your political beliefs, you can be certain that Angela Davis fights the good fight. Period.
Which brings us to Alabama. Per the Associated Press:
Black activists on Monday called for leadership changes and protests at an Alabama civil rights museum after it rescinded an award for political activist Angela Davis, a move the mayor said followed complaints from the Jewish community.
Davis, a longtime activist who has supported Palestinian rights and criticized Israeli policy, is on a par with civil rights legend Rosa Parks, said activist Frank Matthews.
“This is the ultimate insult to deny Angela Davis her inheritance,” he said. Museum leaders should quit, he said, and protests will be held. Other speakers called for a boycott.
Now, reading this lede seems to indicate that there is a strident Jewish community in Birmingham that can overrule leadership at a civil rights museum, but the framing here is not great by the AP. Here’s the mayor’s direct quote, seven paragraphs down, as to who is behind the protests (emphasis mine):
“protests from our local Jewish community and some of its allies.”
Speaking as a Jew, I know exactly who “some of its allies” are, and they are not our allies. This is a fight that every liberal Jew has had with older members of their family, community, temple, etc…Republican evangelical Christians only care about Israel insofar as they need us all of us Jews to die a horrible death in Israel so Jesus can come back and bring them all up to heaven. Any Jew gladly going along with Christian Zionism for the purposes of executing their own brand of Zionism is a willing useful idiot.
Now, on the topic of Palestine, there are many Jews and Republican evangelical Christians (I feel the need to delineate between GOP partisans and traditional evangelical Christians, as the latter have proven to be consistent in their moral beliefs while the former have proven to be anything but) who believe the same thing. I have had many arguments with Jewish members of my community over Palestine and its legitimacy, and it is very much a central facet of having a modern Jewish identiy. Older Jews are quick to cite the Yom Kippur War, as Israel defended itself against an invasion led by Egypt, Syria and a coalition of Arab states, as the reason why Israel cannot trust Palestine and it must remain a second-class state within Israel.
What they always fail to cite is that war came after Israel seized the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. The struggle between conservative and liberal Jews on this topic is centered around the fact that our holy text tells us that this is our land, yet we seized it with the help of an empire, and so our homeland is also a project of colonialism. Israel has even passed laws restricting Palestinians’ access to their legal system. By definition, Israel is an apartheid state. To deny this fact is simply to deny reality.
And this is what Angela Davis has criticized, like in her book, Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement:
“The militarization of the police leads us to think about Israel and the militarization of the police there—if only the images of the police and not of the demonstrators had been shown, one might have assumed that Ferguson was Gaza. I think that it is important to recognize the extent to which, in the aftermath of the advent of the war on terror, police departments all over the US have been equipped with the means to allegedly “fight terror.”
I am Jewish and I believe that the theoretical state of Israel is the home of my people, but this country calling itself Israel does not represent me or the values that I was raised to believe in. Israeli snipers shot and killed a journalist wearing a vest marked “PRESS” during a protest in Gaza last year. Either the IDF’s training methods are insufficient, or that was intentional, and given the efficiency of the Israeli military, it was likely the latter.
Israel represents the United States’ project of colonization, as it has functioned as a dual outpost in a key area of the world/mini me. Angela Davis is correct to connect treatment of Palestinians in Gaza to the crisis of policing communities of color in America’s cities. If you think the comparison is hyperbolic, let me refresh your memory as to how police in Ferguson responded to the protests there in 2016.
Photo via Scott Olson/Getty
Photo via Scott Olson/Getty
Colonialism is bad, no matter if it’s perpetrated by the United States, the Soviet Union, China, England, or any of the other empires and their proxies throughout history who have exploited the less powerful. Any truly liberal platform should have dismantling colonialist state at its heart, because the industrialized exploitation of impoverished peoples is directly at odds with the future we say that we want to build. For the promise of the Jewish state to truly manifest, Israel must be democratic and the Palestinians must have a nation to call their own, or else we are no different than the rest of those who have persecuted us throughout history.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.