The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama recently rescinded its decision to present a reward to the author and radical activist Angela Davis. Indeed, it was her commitment to the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) that precipitated opposition to the institute’s decision. Davis and her allies have in response rushed to claim that her detractors are racist. Jonathan Tobin comments:
Davis . . . claimed she was being shunned because of her support for “the indivisibility of justice.” She and her supporters in Birmingham and elsewhere argued that her support for the Palestinian cause was inextricably linked to civil rights in the United States. That resonated with some institute board members who resigned in protest over the . . . treatment of Davis. . . .
[However], this is not the first time that anti-Semitism has played a part in Davis’s career. As a radical celebrity in the 1970s as well as a prominent Communist and supporter of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes, she was asked to support the struggle for human rights in those countries. In particular, some on the left pleaded with her to aid Jews who were persecuted by the anti-Semitic Soviet government, which refused them the right to leave for Israel or to practice Judaism at home.
Her response was not merely silence. She actively supported the repressive regimes in Russia, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia and opposed the activities of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and other dissidents. Though she styled herself a “political prisoner” for being called to account for her role in an act of domestic terrorism [committed by the Black Panthers], Davis was quoted as saying of Czech dissidents, “They deserve what they get. Let them remain in prison.” According to Alan Dershowitz, who also asked for help for Jewish refuseniks and other prisoners of conscience, she told him, “They are all Zionist fascists and opponents of socialism.”
Davis and her defenders have sought to depict her critics as racists. But the idea that a person with a record of support for totalitarianism and consistent anti-Semitism deserves to be honored as a human-rights advocate is an insult not so much to the Jewish community but to genuine civil-rights heroes who fought for justice—and not, like Davis, to defend injustice.