Angela Davis: Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award

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Angela Davis, Human Rights Activist

According to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, recipients of this prestigious award “embody the characteristics that defined the Civil Rights Movement and the life of Fred Shuttlesworth” which are: “A philosophy of non-violence and reconciliation, courage, both moral and physical, in the face of great odds, humility, leadership by example, and an established commitment to human-rights activities” (Birmingham Civil Rights Institute).

I wanted to bring to light a recent tragedy in the fight for international human rights, as it concerns all activists and concerned human beings who value those that dedicate their lives to the pursuit of a more just, free, and equitable world. Recently, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has rescinded the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award granted to Angela Davis because of her work for a free Palestine, Palestinian rights and equality, and her support of the Boycott Divestment and Sactions Movement.

I want to answer the following questions and offer my own perspective and conclusions in relation to this issue.

What is the BDS Movement?

According to bdsmovement.net, the purpose of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement is as follows: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

The Civil Rights Institute is deeply mistaken and misinformed about the purpose of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement. The excuse that they gave for rescinding the award was because the BDS Movement “targets Israel, the only Jewish State”…and claims that because she supports the BDS movement she is supporting a movement that is anti-semitic. I do not agree. The very idea of protecting human rights supports Angela Davis in her work and her nomination for this award. If we truly value human rights, then we will work and fight to protect the rights of all humans everywhere. The BDS Movement does not wish harm to Israel or to Israeli or Jewish people, and to think that is to misconstrue information. As stated above, the movement believes and works to promote the rights of the Palestinians because of the principle that “Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity”. It does not single out Israel. It says, the rest of humanity, basically it wants Israel and the rest of the world to aknowledge the suffering and the plight of the Palestinian people and to work to create a world where Palestinians and Israeli Jews can coexist and live peacefully.

What specific demands does the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement make?  The BDS Movement attempts, through non-violent, grassroots effort to pressure Israel to respect international law, in particular:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
International law recognises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights as occupied by Israel.

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

by boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning Israel and Israeli goods, for the purpose of enforcing international law and holding the Israeli State accountable. It does not target individuals, or groups on the basis of being Jewish or Israeli.

When did the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement start and who started BDS? 

According to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions website, the movement draws inspiration from “decades of Palestinian popular resistance, from the South African anti-apartheid struggle, from the US Civil Rights movement, among others. It inspires Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights worldwide to speak truth to power, to challenge  hegemonic, racist power structures and to assert that Palestinian rights must be respected and implemented” and that is why it is a Palestinian-led, non-violent, grassroots movement with “86% Palestinian support” (bds.net), according to a recent poll of Palestinian public opinion in the OPT, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

What analysis of the Institute’s resinded award decision can be made? 

Again, “the argument that support for BDS is anti-semitic is flawed because “the BDS movement stands for freedom, justice and equality. Anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the BDS movement, led by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, is inclusive and categorically opposes as a matter of principle all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-semitism” (bds.net).

“BDS campaigns target the Israeli state because of its responsibility for serious violations of international law and the companies and institutions that participate in and are complicit in these Israeli violations” (bds.net). To reiterate, “the BDS movement does not boycott or campaign against any individual or group simply because they are Israeli” (bds.net) so, to rescind the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award because of Angela Davis’ support for Palestinian Rights goes against the promotion of human rights. This is a concerning and disappointing misunderstanding of the meaning of human rights activism.

Does rescinding the award violate Angela Davis’ rights?

Yes! The irony is that while they were awarding her for her work and long career promoting and protecting human rights, the choice to rescind the award based on her support for a free Palestine violates her human rights and her First Amendment right to Freedom of Expression. The ACLU writes of Freedom of Expression that, “Freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition — this set of guarantees, protected by the First Amendment, comprises what we refer to as freedom of expression. The Supreme Court has written that this freedom is “the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.” Without it, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would wither and die.”

What can you do? Call the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute at 1-866-328-9696 and, when prompted, dial 272 to leave a respectful message stating your objection to the rescinded award, your stance in support of Angela Davis, and any other factual support you desire to provide.

~ Root to Rise!