Angela Davis and the Jewish Civil WarRoundup
tags: African American history, Jewish Americans, Angela Davis
Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.
This week a political and symbolic drama unfolded, involving the, once again, contentious relations between parts of the Black and Jewish community. Though initially local, the drama has taken on a heightened dimension because it involves one of last living icons of the Civil Rights and Black Power era, Angela Davis. The fireworks continue as I write. In the coming weeks they may escalate further.
The drama began in Birmingham, Alabama, with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute bestowing the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award on Angela Davis. It is now a national and international spectacle that highlights Israel’s continuing injustice against Palestinian life and land. The Board members of the Birmingham Holocaust Center who protested Davis’s award, and who played a part in the subsequent rescinding of the award, had no idea of what they were getting into. Evidently, they still don’t.
Though the intrigue surrounding the rescinding of Davis’s award may include other constituencies as well, liberal and evangelical Christians who support Israel with few if any questions among them, the local Birmingham Jewish establishment has taken the worst of it. Their objection to honoring Davis is part of a larger political canvas, one that relates to the Jewish civil war over what it means to be Jewish in our time. The central issue in the Jewish civil war? Palestine.
Other issues highlighted by way of Birmingham are important. Historical African American suffering is belatedly being memorialized in the South and elsewhere. It hit a low point with the rescinding of Davis’s award. The Black-Jewish alliance, at least what’s left of it, faces a common challenge of how memorialization works and for whom. When government, not-for-profits, moneyed elites and corporations sanction and finance projects like the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Birmingham Holocaust Center, what is represented and who sets the limits of representation and advocacy is often contested. The Davis Affair hits different sides of the memorialization debate.
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